Education Opinion

Drawing the Line on Parental Involvement

By Walt Gardner — December 02, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

If there’s one thing everyone agrees on in the education of children, it’s the importance of parental involvement. Until recently, the issue has largely focused on parents monitoring homework, attending open house, and responding to requests for a conference. But lately another aspect has come to the fore.

In the face of severe budget cuts, parents have stepped forward to provide generous donations to the school their children attend. Their largess has resulted in the addition of art and music classes, instructional aides and extended library hours. The problem has been that not all schools have been the fortunate recipient. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has become involved.

To understand why, it’s necessary to recall that since the late 1970s courts have repeatedly ruled that resources must be equitably distributed between rich and poor districts. When parents are permitted to give their own money to one particular school, the effect is to create a two-tier system of education between the affluent and the impoverished. Their contributions only exacerbate the already inequitable distribution of state and local funds. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education, more than 40 percent of low-income schools are shortchanged (Office of Communications and Outreach, Nov. 30).

This disparity is on display in California in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where PTA donations have amounted to more than $2,100 per student at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in Malibu, compared with only $96 per student at McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica. To comply with past court rulings, the school board is considering centralizing fundraising. Donations would be placed in a districtwide non-profit, which would then distribute the money evenly among all schools (“Public schools, private donations,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27).

A similar concern prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to sue California over the use of fees for textbooks or for taking required tests or courses (“Public Schools Face Lawsuits Over Fees,” The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2010). The ACLU correctly argues that charging for instructional materials as well as for art, music and sports programs violates Article IX of the California Constitution: the state shall provide a free education to its children.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the issue is limited to California. In Kansas, parents in affluent districts wanted to place a property-tax increase dedicated to school funding on the ballot. But Kansas is one of a handful of states that limits how much money local school districts can raise from property taxes in order to ensure a rough parity in spending across the state (“Tax Complaint: Too Low,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14).

It’s understandable why parents have become involved at this time. But the quality of education that students receive should not depend on Zip Code. I don’t doubt there are some schools that still provide a solid education in spite of budget shortfalls. However, they are exceptions. Just as the gap between the ultra rich and everyone else is widening, so too will the achievement of schools unless court rulings are followed.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP