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October 27, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Just say ‘no’ to excessive demands for school fundraising

Student leaders at Garfield High School protested the loss of one teacher. Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

Student leaders at Garfield High School protested the loss of one teacher. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

During my sophomore year in high school, I raised more than $1,000 to pay for about half of a trip to visit Japan as part of a cultural exchange program.

After numerous car washes and selling candy bars to classmates, I learned that fundraising isn’t easy. Even though I had a part-time job, neither I nor my family could have covered the cost of the entire trip out-of-pocket.

Raising money for something extracurricular like, say, a visit to Japan, makes sense for public schools, but raising money to pay teachers’ salaries or basic school necessities is extremely troubling.

In recent weeks, parents at Gatewood Elementary School in West Seattle scrambled to raise close to $90,000 in a matter of days to keep a teacher’s job in their school.

Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland suggested the same option to parents and students at Garfield High School, who learned last week one of their teachers would be reassigned to another school that is over-enrolled with students.

I’m impressed that the parents in West Seattle pulled together that kind of money so quickly, but I’m dismayed that parental fundraising is becoming a much more crucial component of school funding.

The amount of money raised by private supporters for U.S. schools boomed to an estimated $880 million in 2010, a whopping 348 percent increase compared with $197 million in 1995, according to a study by Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth A. Gazley of Indiana University.

The researchers analyzed fundraising by what they call “school-supporting nonprofits,” which include groups such as charitable school foundations, booster clubs and parent teacher associations or organizations known as PTAs and PTOs.

An Oct. 21 news story in The New York Times highlights the disparity between two schools in the San Diego area. A school in an affluent enclave brings in about $1,500 per student per year in private funding while a school in a lower income neighborhood brings in closer to $20 per year per student.

The study states that privately-sourced money for schools by no means replaces state, federal or local funding sources. Still, our public school system continues segmenting into schools that have and schools that have not.

Parents should feel free to raise or donate money to public schools as they wish, but the fact that schools rely on that money more and more troubles me as a taxpayer who believes education should serve as an equalizer for our society by giving kids an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their parents’ income.

I don’t have children, but if I did, I’m not sure I want strong fundraising skills to be an essential qualification to be a good parent.

At Garfield High School, students responded to Nyland’s suggestion by staging a walk-out – a strategy that might not have any effect on their cause, but at least demands accountability over how school resources are spent and doesn’t just fall back on parents to save the day.

I’m comforted to see the students engaged and outraged by their school district. They demonstrate that at least part of the educational system is working.

Comments | Topics: Education, fundraising, school budgets

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