When communities vote on public school budget proposals throughout the country, voting citizens evaluate the quality of the curricula, the perceived effectiveness of the administration, the students’ performance, the prioritization of students’ needs, and their own wallets. Rising costs and an unstable economy tend to push parents to be wary of budget increases that result in higher taxes. No one wants to pay more money for a mismanaged school district, but with unfunded school districts — and with wide differentiation between schools in wealthy communities and those in poorer communities — the quality of education overall continues to fall.
Schools underfunded through taxes turn to other sources to support the necessities of education. The funding picture is usually complex, but a significant part of the equation consists of donations from parents. Parent-teacher organizations help raise funds from parents in order to cover the costs of textbooks, teacher aids, and entire educational programs minimized by reduced budgets in tight economies. Bake sales have been a part of the parenting experience as far back as I can remember, but organizations are increasingly looking for monetary contributions.
Not every parent can afford to pay the suggested donations requested by PTA groups. One school could cover many different socio-economic communities. Even those who can afford $1,000 or $2,000 a year per student often believe that tax income should leave little responsibility for funding to the parents.
I’m a big fan of DonorsChoose, an organization designed to make private funding for educational needs more accessible. The organization allows teachers to list underfunded projects and accept donations to purchase the materials. The list of materials for each project is vetted by the DonorsChoose staff, and when a project is fully funded, DonorsChoose buys the materials and ships them to the school. No actual money reaches the school or the teacher. With this method, teachers are encouraged to list their best projects for potential funding or face embarrassment for posting a project that has little educational value. The best projects ideally receive funding the quickest.
Although I have no children in school — no children whatsoever — my prioritization of education as an issue leads me to support DonorsChoose campaigns organized by teachers I know or pertaining to topics about which I’m passionate, including arts and financial literacy.
This method is an improvement on the model of asking parents to write checks to the school, but works most effectively when combined with communication to the parents. Principals can send emails and letters to parents to keep them abreast of their school’s latest funding needs, and parents can see the results of their tax-deductible donations. Asking for money to fund education shouldn’t be necessary in this country where education is or should be a priority, but these needs exist, and schools committed to providing the best education possible for the students need to find creative ways to deal with financial shortcoming.
If you’re a parent with a child or children in school, are you asked to contribute financially? Is the local (or state, or federal) government responsible for ensuring a quality education is available to all, regardless of socio-economic status, through taxation? Are schools opting to spend the money they have inefficiently?
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published June 13, 2012.