Education Funding

Parent Poll: Schools Using Fund Raising for Basics

By Marianne D. Hurst — January 21, 2004 2 min read
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Sixty-eight percent of parents from schools that engage in fund raising said the money is used to pay for such basic needs as classroom equipment, textbooks, and school supplies, a poll released last week has found.

The survey, which was distributed last month to 22,000 parents with school-age children and was based on 1,000 responses, was commissioned by the National PTA and QSP Reader’s Digest.

The report, “QSP Reader’s Digest & National PTA Fundraising Pool,” is scheduled to be put online next month from the National PTA.

Among other findings, it indicates that nearly 50 percent of the parents polled said their schools are using fund-raising proceeds to pay for items normally covered by state funding.

Such figures are the result of reduced state and local budgets, suggested Linda Hodge, the president of the Chicago- based National PTA.

“School budgets are shrinking, but there are higher expectations for education so parents and schools are fund raising [to make up the difference],” she said.

But fund raising is a short-term solution, Ms. Hodge said. She pointed out that it can lead to great financial inequities among schools because some have access to more fund-raising resources than others do.

However, Gary Rich—the president of QSP Reader’s Digest, a leading fund-raising organization based in Pleasantville, N.Y., that has worked with schools for nearly 40 years—said that fund raising fills an important and often critical need in schools. The organization is an arm of the Reader’s Digest Association Inc., which publishes Reader’s Digest magazine.

“People can split hairs over what is fundamental and what is not,” he said. "[But] every parent wants what’s best for their kids, and ... schools have always used the funds for the enhancement of children’s educational needs.”

What Is a Basic Need?

Some school officials seem to agree that there is a gray area emerging between what is seen as a basic school need and what is a supplemental service. A prime example is Internet access and computer technology. Once considered a supplemental service, such technology is now almost a standard feature in the nation’s schools.

Stephen Ostrow, who helps raise money for a New York City school, said that the fundamental needs of schools are evolving, and that he has lost sight of what was traditionally considered “earmarked” money.

“Public schools are a reflection of the parents,” said Mr. Ostrow, a member of the fund-raising committee for the 700-student School of the Future, a public magnet school in Manhattan that raises between $30,000 to $40,000 annually. “A school can become whatever parents ask it to be,” he said. “A motivated parent base will create money for a school.”

But Ms. Hodge said there’s a danger in such thinking if schools go too far. Too much fund raising, she said, can make parents feel overwhelmed or taken advantage of, and the hard reality is that not enough money can be raised through fund raising to support essential school components.

Districts, therefore, should not be lulled into believing that parents are an unlimited resource, she said.

According to the survey, most parents reported that their schools hold four fund-raising events per year and raise about $17,600 annually.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2004 edition of Education Week as Parent Poll: Schools Using Fund Raising for Basics

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