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Welcome Back to School!...Now Open Your Wallet!

My checkbook says, "Enough!"

by Stefania Pomponi Butler  |  4448 views  |  8 comments  |        Rate this now! 

I sent my kids off to school this month, and nestled among the 894 pieces of paper that we received from both schools were, of course, the requests for money. Join the PTA! Donate to the Educational fund—We cover what the PTA doesn't! Give to the parent fund! The teacher appreciation fund! The school fund! The class fund!...I don't know about you, but I'm funded out. Not only that, I'm questioning if, in the grand scheme of all things fair and equal, it is really "necessary." I know what the money is being used for, but in my experience need is relative.

My kids attend a private preschool and a public elementary school. The school that is hitting us up for the most money is—surprise!—the public school. The PTA asked us for $225—$25 of which was for "school supplies," theoretically so we don't have to purchase them. Then there is the district-wide private educational fund that asks each family for $500 and if you can't donate that, give what you can. This covers programs and services that are supposed to keep our school kids competitive with school kids across the US who don't have to live with California's Prop. 13 fall out.

$225 + $500. For a public elementary school. That's a lot of money. Money that I, as a former inner city school teacher, have a hard time parting with even though it would benefit my own child. Both the PTA and the education fund have told us "these are for things we need...our kids need these programs."

And I say, come visit the school where I used to teach. Let's talk about needs. At the school where I taught, the PTA asked for $5 per family. That's it. I bought my own paper and pencils for my class because beyond the one pencil given to each student at the beginning of the year, my school had none to spare. I bought my own books for my classroom because when I started teaching, my bookshelf was filled with moldy books that were culled from the library. We used donated paper—recycled letterhead from companies who were changing their branding. Do you know how heartbreaking it is to have kids do their math problems or artwork on a law firm's old letterhead? Oh sure, we couched it as "being environmentally conscious," but sometimes it would have been nice to have cool, clean, weighty paper to paint on.

Art teachers? We shared two between all the schools in the district. If we didn't make time for art in our own classrooms, we would have to settle for art twice a year.

A music program? Non-existent.

About the Author

Stefania Pomponi Butler is a blogger, writer, and editor. She writes the popular parenting blog, CityMama, as well as for online and print media.

Read more by Stefania Pomponi Butler

8 comments so far...

  • It's hard not to feel exploited when you receive all the requests for a donation, but I would happily donate school supplies and/or money to ensure that all kids, not just mine, get what they need to feel valued in our community.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by unkeptmomof3 on 20th September 2007

  • You must have taught where I live.

    School supplies all through elementary school are provided and the middle school doesn't have ridiculous requirements like some.

    PTA? $5/family - although I managed to do a little better than that and managed to support as many fundraisers as I could. I went to a few meetings but it wasn't a good fit.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by rocrebelgranny on 12th September 2007

  • Daisy, that is fabulous! I want to hug those PTA moms.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Stefania Pomponi Butler on 12th September 2007

  • I recently wrote about my school fundraising burnout! I know it's really issue about school funding but honestly - could the begging for money wait until at least after the first month of school?!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by amaras_mom on 10th September 2007

  • I hear you. I teach in a school that's in a partially low-income neighborhood. We get some funding from the state to keep our classes small in the lower grades, and I still see kids coming in without scissors, glue, or pencils because they can't afford them. Two PTA moms (not wealthy, but financially secure) came to my room last week with a cart full of school supplies and said, "Take all you need. We bought these at a warehouse sale last spring, and we want to make sure all the kids have what they need." Wow. I will forever love this PTA.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Daisy on 10th September 2007

  • the above article should say my kids attend a private preschool *and* a public elementary school.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Stefania Pomponi Butler on 9th September 2007

  • The amount of money schools beg for is totally ridiculous. Especially around here, after you receive a two page list of school supplies, that must be given to the class as community property. These lists specify brand name items, like a particular package of crayola markers, 10 elmers washable glue sticks, or 50 of a particular type of pencil or pen. Plus kleenex, hand sanitizer, baggies, etc... The only think most classes let kids have of their own is a backpack, and maybe a binder. Then on top of it, they ask for money!?!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kristie McNealy on 9th September 2007

  • If it's any consolation, I have plenty of friends who send their kids to private schools, and they are even MORE aggressive on the fundraising (despite the fact that the parents are already paying $25K or more per child).

    The public schools in my neck of the LAUSD are somewhere between the two extremes you describe. We have a mix of affluent families and families with parents who need to work more than one job to get by. It is a challenge, especially in the face of the tax and political climate (and the regulations that take up so much time that it's a miracle our teachers have a moment to teach).

    Our elementary school's PTA raised funds to fill in the gaps. No money for a PE program? PTA took care of it. No time for art? PTA brought in after school "enrichment" programs that kids could enroll in for a small fee. No child was turned away for lack of funds, as PTA set up "scholarships" for that purpose.

    This year, our elementary school has lost its Title I status (so many new schools have been built over the last few years that there is no longer any need to bus kids in from less advantaged neighborhoods). This is a good thing -- but tough on the school's budget, as there are still kids who qualify for Title I and the school will have to provide services, even though they are no longer receiving the funds to do so.

    PTA will now be asked to help make up a shortfall of $50K. There will be a lot of belt tightening at that school this year.

    Still, my child seems to be getting just as good an education as her friends at the movie star private schools, and all it costs me is a bit of my time and a few hundred each year on fundraising appeals. I consider that a bargain.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Donna Schwartz Mills on 9th September 2007