By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Last week the New York Times reported on the “public privates” – schools where parent groups like the PTA or PTO raise around $1M per year for their public schools. These schools, which are typically in higher-income neighborhoods and tend to yield top marks on state tests, have found shelter from the budget-cutting storm with parent fundraising shielding them from many of the painful cuts other public schools have been forced to make.
But it’s not just happening in Manhattan’s best neighborhoods. Parent fundraising groups are a force to be reckoned with in schools across the country. Last year, I wrote about three heavy-hitting parent groups in California: Orinda (where the Educational Foundation contributes $1M a year), Piedmont (where the Parent Club not only provides PE, but makes it an adventurer’s dream with lessons in rock climbing and bay kayaking), and Long Beach (where the Longfellow Legacy Foundation goes after deep pockets to keep tutoring and music programs alive).
It’s hard to argue with parents raising funds for their kids' education. Private-school educational consultant Emily Glickman was quoted in the New York Times article saying: “Many now have amenities that can compete with private school offerings.” Who doesn’t want that?
The rich-poor divide
The trouble is that while these more affluent public schools flourish, other public schools are enduring terrible cuts. In a column titled “Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?” published in American Educator (Spring 2012), Daniel T. Willingham does a nice job of sorting through the relevant research to determine why kids from lower socio-economic status (SES) families tend to do worse in school than middle class and affluent kids
“Research shows it’s not all about the money,” Willingham writes, but it is almost all indirectly related. He points out that SES kids live in a state of chronic stress that can be cognitively crippling as a result of issues like food insecurity, financial worries, high-crime neighborhoods, more crowded living conditions, and healthcare concerns. Willingham makes a case for countering the stress SES kids face with the creation of a "serene, joyful classroom," – which is exactly what the parent fundraisers at more prosperous public schools are trying to do for their kids. So it may not be all about the money, but certainly more money would help.
Should schools share the wealth?
Which raises the question: should these more affluent schools share the wealth? The Times article goes on to cite some of the pros and cons of forced sharing, such as not wanting to interfere with parents contributing to their own kids’ schools, it being harder to raise funds without control over how they’re spent, and creating government-funding formulas to remedy the inequities. The article does, however, mention that schools in Portland, OR, are required to share some of their bounty. (A share-the-wealth structure works for the NFL, too.)
How much does your school’s parent organization ask for each year? Would you give more, the same, or less if you knew that, say, 25 percent of the funds raised would go to a suffering school? If you child goes to a hard-hit school, would you welcome the funds from mandatory sharing?