One school district where I worked had 12 schools K-12. Between those 12 schools, especially among the 9 elementary schools, there was a sizable socio-economic divide. A few of the schools were Title I (a federal program that entitled lower-income populations to additional funding), while other schools in the district were incredibly affluent. In fact, a few professional athletes’ kids attended those upper echelon schools within the district.
I happened to be the principal at one of the Title I schools, so our parent club, while incredibly supportive, was not able to provide any monetary support. You might be wondering, “Why would a parent club provide monetary support?” Well, in this day and age, with the budget crises at the state and federal levels of government, funding is cut nearly every year.
As districts tighten their belts and trim any remaining fat in their budgets, district officials have to make very difficult decisions about what to cut. Cuts are never popular, but without funding, there aren’t any alternatives. Fortunately for this district, they had a well-established education foundation. Through the efforts of the ed foundation, the district benefited nearly $750,000/year. Although those funds are not guaranteed each year since it depends on what funds are raised, it is a big contribution to a district’s annual operating budget.
At another very wealthy school district where I worked, their education foundation raised $1,000,000 annually. Again, this is a tremendous help to the district’s annual operating budget. Through this funding, the district was able to maintain its music program.
Monetary donations for public schools is not a new concept. PTA’s have been asking parents to join and pay a membership fee for as long as I can remember. Nowadays, however, I have several concerns with monetary donations.
1) In many schools, especially in upper and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, parents are asked to fork over a monetary donation and I’m not talking $50-$100. These monetary donations are often upwards of $500-$1000 per family. I supposed compared to the price of sending a child to private school $500-$1000 per family per year is not that bad. But don’t families already pay property taxes in nice neighborhoods so that their children can attend a strong local public school?
2) The monetary donations do not seem to be as voluntary as they used to be or should be. Some schools post the names of families who have already donated, passive-aggressively pressuring those who haven’t yet donated.
3) In some districts, the employees are asked to give as well. I’m not sure that makes sense. Aren’t the employees the ones who should benefit from the monetary donations? It’s like asking a patient who needs a blood transfusion to draw his own blood and give it back to himself.
4) In some districts, each school’s PTA is allowed to raise funds for their own school. In some districts where there are Title I schools as well as affluent schools, is this equitable to all the students in the district? This is the problem we had in my former district. Those that already had, got more and those that did not, were left with less than. The practice of allowing each school’s PTA to raise funds for their own school left the district in a contentious state.
5) I’m 100% supportive of a community education fund. I think it’s a great way to help raise additional funds, but I think the fundraising should happen with businesses and the chamber of commerce rather than hitting up families of students who attend the schools.
6) Many affluent areas have ed foundations and PTAs who fundraise and are thus able to make large annual contributions to their local public schools. What about the less affluent areas, urban areas, and the downright poor? This cycle of the rich get richer is perpetuated in education. I’d like to see the same sort of ed foundations set up for these types of areas as well to level the playing field a bit.
Does your school or district ask for a voluntary monetary donation request? If so, how much do they ask and what are the funds used for?