Many Parent Teacher Associations help the rich get richer, according to a new report from Center for American Progress (CAP). In the report, Hidden Money: Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance, CAP explores how parent donations are furthering funding inequities at the district and school level. Essentially, wealthy parents raise and donate money to improve their already-advantaged schools while schools serving low-income populations either pay for the same services with state and local money or go without.
The report analyzes a variety of approaches local districts have taken to regulate and restrict how PTA donations can be used by the school. First, in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, parent contributions cannot be used for school staffing. The report suggests that such a prohibition ensures parent dollars do not exacerbate staffing disparities and inequities, but it also does not address it. Second, in Portland Public Schools in Oregon, the city created a foundation which distributes a portion of parent donations in the district to schools based on student need. Although some parents argued they would be less likely to donate if their money was not going to their student’s school, the report finds this policy has not substantially reduced overall parent contributions.
The authors make seven recommendations on how to address resource equity generally and the role of parent donations in inequitable funding systems specifically. Advocates may find the report useful as they assess their state’s funding system and look for creative solutions to develop transparency, accountability, and equity as states continue to work on their ESSA implementation plans.
Similarly, EdWeek analyzed federal financial data of private contributions to schools and districts. They found the extra dollars can reinforce existing inequities and Wisconsin’s State Superintendent Tony Evers noted “these districts are using money for what public funding used to cover.”