Widening the Funding Gaps, One Auction at a Time

I skimmed this this op-ed piece on the insidious side of PTA fundraisers over a rushed breakfast this morning, and then read it more carefully tonight.

I always have very mixed feelings when I hear that one of our strongest teacher ed grads has been hired as a science/art/reading/technology specialist in a school in which such positions are funded by PTA auctions, as if students in these schools are entitled to the particularly focused and skilled instruction of “specialists”.

One the one hand, I know that these teachers will give these kids a good sense of the world beyond their subdivisions.

On the other hand, I know that children attending other schools in the same district will bounce in their seats with joy to have science instruction once or twice a month, after the Spring testing season.

A few years ago, I did research in a school in which young children had decided that it was cool to ride the bus. Their stay-at-home moms supported their choice and dutifully put them on the bus each morning. At the end of the day, though, the SUVs would line up in the school driveway. The moms were there not to pick up their now-independent children, but instead to pick up their children’s backpacks so that the young ones would not be burdened by carrying them on and off the bus.

Fiercely competitive fundraisers. Chauffeurs for backpacks. And auditing the PTA’s budgetary bottom line before enrolling one’s children in an obviously otherwise excellent school.

When do we say enough?


Jeanne notices that the link is no longer active. I’ve provided Cliff Notes below in a comment.

6 thoughts on “Widening the Funding Gaps, One Auction at a Time

  1. Rosa January 18, 2008 / 3:27 pm

    Don’t we have some sort of mechanism to shift funding? I have to admit we’re 3 years away from the school decision, and are going to have our son in a Minneapolis school, so it’s not something I’ve compared…but I was under the vague impression Minneapolis has some equity in funding.

    Now I’m going to go research that. Once I’m off the clock here, at least.

  2. janevangalen January 19, 2008 / 10:39 am

    Hello, Rosa,

    There is some formal equalization of funding across our district, and even some measure of extra funds sent to schools with the highest proportion of poor or special needs kids.

    Yet there are many hidden inequalities. One is that low income schools commonly have less experienced teachers. With more experience, teachers tend to work their way “up” through the district to more middle-class schools. Thus, schools with more experienced teachers (who are then paid more) get a disproportionate share of district resources, just to cover the payroll.

    Another hidden source of inequality is this fund-raising that happens in schools where parents can afford to pay a great deal for whatever comes up for sale in the annual auction. Parents are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own schools, so that those schools can buy computers, hire extra teachers, send kid on overnight field trips, stock the science labs while other schools do without.

    It does indeed get complicated.

  3. Crimson Wife January 30, 2008 / 3:47 pm

    Here are some of the education foundation fundraising numbers for government-run schools in my area as noted by my local paper:

    Hillsborough (median household income in 2005 was $203,300) $2,227 per student.

    Menlo Park-Atherton (MHI in ’05 was $210,500 for Atherton and $89,100 for Menlo Park) $885/student.

    San Carlos (MHI in ’05 was $93,100) $337/student.

    Burlingame (MHI in ’05 was $72,100) $288/student.

    Belmont-Redwood Shores (MHI in ’05 was $85,200 in Belmont. Redwood Shores is technically part of Redwood City but is geographically isolated from the rest of it) $141/student.

    Redwood City (MHI in ’05 was $67,829) $29/student.

    San Mateo-Foster City (MHI in ’05 was $76,704 for San Mateo and $100,300 for Foster City) $20/student.

    Somehow I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind in Mark 4:25 (For whoever has, to him more shall be given…)

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