Million-dollar PTAs buffer schools from tough choices: Should parents be writing checks to public schools?

Some public school PTAs in New York City aren’t just raising money through bake sales or car washes, they are asking parents to straight up write checks in the thousands of dollars.

Some of the schools are raising more than $1 millions to help fill the budgetary gaps and give their kids the advantages of private schools. But what about the public schools in poor areas where parents can’t afford to write checks?

From The New York Times:

“At a time when the city’s schools have had their financing cut by an average of 13.7 percent over the past five years, the money has buffered these schools from the hard choices many others have had to make. In a system where many parents’ associations raise no money at all, these schools have earned a special name among parents and school consultants: ‘public privates.’ ”

“ ‘Many now have amenities that can compete with private school offerings,’ said Emily Glickman, the president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, a private-school admissions company, on the Upper East Side.”

“These schools are in some of the city’s wealthiest ZIP codes, most of them in Manhattan, and their students typically garner top scores on statewide exams. (In 2011, at P. S. 290, 88.9 percent of students were proficient in reading, and 92.9 percent demonstrated proficiency in math. The citywide averages for the subjects were 43.9 percent and 57.3 percent.)”

In some schools the principals even go the PTA and tell them what they need: new iPads for the lower-grade classrooms and a part-time secretary.  The PTA votes ‘yes’ and the principal gets what she needs.

But what happens at poor schools? What about the disparity?

From The New York Times:

Dennis M. Walcott, New York City’s schools chancellor, said that he was well aware of “the disparity issue,” but he did not want to penalize parents for getting involved.”

“Department officials say the city has also moved to curb inequities within the system through its budgeting process by instituting a “fair funding formula,” which was put in place, Ms. Miller, the department spokeswoman, said, to allow the city ‘to direct more resources to schools that need it the most.’ ”

The story mentions that in Portland some of the richer schools that raise a lot of money donate to other schools that have less. Would your school PTA want to do that?

While I think it’s unusual to raise $1 million at a school, I don’t think it’s unusual for schools to ask parents to straight up write checks. Some parents made donations to our school in Gwinnett and our schools in Arizona appeal to parents repeatedly though the year to write a check directly to the school. In Arizona that donation can be taken directly off their state tax bill. (Is that how it works in other states?)

So lots to discuss here:

Is it right for schools to ask for checks from parents? Would you be willing to straight-up write a check instead of buying cookie dough or wrapping paper? Would you rather write a check?

What should happen to state funding for those wealthier schools? Should it be deferred to other schools without parent contributors?

Should the richer school pool and share with sister schools? (I always thought that parents at school with tons of volunteers should volunteer at schools where they had none. When I worked downtown I went once a week to volunteer at a City of Atlanta school down the street from the AJC. I worked on reading skills with fourth-graders. I didn’t see any parents in there.)

Is it OK to have public private schools?

32 comments Add your comment


June 4th, 2012
1:25 pm

I rather they asked me straight up for a check than force me to participate in idiotic fundraisers (i.e Boosterthon–the biggest scam to come down the pike since pyramid schemes). I wish public schools had all the resources they needed. But they don’t and it is up to the parents to fill in the gaps.

Whatever I contribute to the PTA and other things to make my public school better it is still a bargain compared to what I would have to fork over if my kids went to private school.


June 4th, 2012
1:45 pm

Totally agree with mom2alex&max. I would very willingly write a check–especially to do away with the Boosterthon. And I have thought about schools that don’t have the resources that we have and considered donating to them in the past, but have not done so. I wouldn’t be opposed to it though. I think my main concern is not knowing how the money would be spent. Within our own school, I feel pretty comfortable that the PTA is doing a good job managing contributions and that they are going where they need to……if I donated to school outside of my area, where I didn’t know anyone personally, I would want some type of assurances that the money was going to provide resources to the classroom.


June 4th, 2012
1:49 pm

Our school did $10 raffle tix to raise $36K (they raised more) to pay for the Technology and Science Lab teacher’s salaries. Grand Prize was $1000.

I found this to be obnoxious. I am supposed to ask my family, friends, and co-workers to buy all kinds of crap (wrapping paper, cookies, etc) then shell out $10 for a raffle that had 3 prizes (the other 2 were forgettable). The school nickle and dimes everything. Time to kill the public schools system and make it all privatized!


June 4th, 2012
1:51 pm

Oh and I stopped buying the full compliment of school supplies when we were in the previous school. Here is why…..the teachers took half of the supplies and sent them to the “sister” school in South Atlanta. AND THERE NEVER TOLD ANYONE that was going to happen to the supplies. I don’t mind helping if I can/feel moved too but this forced socialism needs to go!


June 4th, 2012
1:56 pm



June 4th, 2012
2:11 pm

I have written checks to the school when my kids came home selling stuff that I did not want nor wanted to pass on to others. We have no relatives here, except my sister, and I was not interested in begging our neighbors and friends.

Being involved, supporting and volunteering in schools is set by example. Some schools are filled with students and parents who have never seen what a good school, with involved parents, looks like and history repeats itself.

I love going to visit schools where I can see that parents are involved. It is not always about $$$. Seeing grandparents at schools is the best! I plan to volunteer when I am there. It is harder, to be involved, when both parents are working but many parents still make time. I have not seen a lot of parental involvement in the poorer schools and I do not think those parents are any busier ( at work) than the ones who are making time to be involved in the schools with $$$. What is up with that?


June 4th, 2012
2:24 pm

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June 4th, 2012
2:24 pm

I’ll add my name to the list of Boosterthon haters. Waste of time, when what it boils down to is the Boosterthon people take half off the top of what’s raised. What a scam! I’d rather just write a check directly to our school. I don’t disparage Boosterthon’s positive messages, etc. but they take up a lot of the school day and then make a big show about handing out prizes in front of the whole class to those who raise the most money. What if your family isn’t as well off or simply choose not to participate? Can you imagine how crappy some kids must feel when they see their friends getting the stupid, cheap prizes while they sit there with nothing? Boosterthon must be abolished!

A reader

June 4th, 2012
2:39 pm

I do write a check to the PTA at the beginning of every year and my child has not had to sell any unless items in either middle school or high school. The check is not required but it is expected unless your family really cannot afford it. Last year it was about $120. The PTA at these schools listened to the parents and decided that asking for cash was more palatable than trying to sell magazines or wrapping paper. Additionally, each of the departments at the school (math, science, language arts,…) asked for a donation the help buy supplies and I happily wrote those checks. Is this wrong? No. I want my child to get the best education possible and I live in this school district for a reason. I will gladly give donations to help the school that is educating my child so well.

Should my child’s school share these funds with a less fortunate school? Not without asking! I would be happy to make a separate donation to another school if my PTA organized and asked for it.


June 4th, 2012
3:02 pm

One of my schools did a “surrender the booty” campaign (mascot is pirates), and they racked up almost 20 grand. I detest the Boosterthon run/Sally Foster/crap sales they coming up with for fundraisers. At least with the “surrender” campaign, ALL the money goes to the school.


June 4th, 2012
3:38 pm

@MJG – thanks, going to check it out right now.

I see no reason why parents shouldn’t be asked to write a check for things that help with an education but there simply isn’t enough money in the tax-supported budget to cover. Of course this comes from the parent who pays tuition so obviously I see the value in a good education even though it means a personal sacrifice for my family. I know a lot of people cringe to think that public schools ask for parents to give money but the reality is, especially in Ga where the funds are based on [falling] property values, there simply isn’t enough money generated by the taxes to fully cover the cost of an education. If the state/local gov’t says that they’ll fund math, reading, writing, science, history but that all other extras including music, art, PE, computers, meals, field trips, etc. needs to be privately funded, then so be it. I don’t want to see kids go without these things b/c I do think these programs help to produce well-rounded individuals but the reality is these are not the core priorities when the revenue isn’t there.

I however would be very upset if I gave specifically to my son’s school and the money was diverted; taxes already take care of that!


June 4th, 2012
3:49 pm

Our kid’s (private) school had a major fundraiser every two years. It generally raised between $150,000 and $250,000, and it generally went to specific things, not just a check that was handed over to the school. You could go or not, as you pleased (lots of people did, though, and enjoyed it.) The PTA, the arts supporters and the athletic booster organizations would get prioritized “wish lists” from their various areas, and the organizations would help with as many as they could (i.e., new sound system in the theatre, new musical instruments, athletic equipment, etc., etc. ) There was also the building campaign, when the campus was in intense buiding mode, and the annual fund, which provides additional capital and is often used for scholarships, etc.

I absolutely loathe Sally Foster . . .


June 4th, 2012
3:53 pm

I am not opposed to helping my kids, their schools, or even less fortune schools (when I can). I am highly opposed to the craziness of fund raising.

In fact, if I write a check to the school the company I work for will match it. I would mutch rather give $100 directly to the school (which then becomes $200) than anything else. But when it is that on top of $$$ for classroom parties, $$$ for tshirts, $$$ for gym shirts, $$$ workbooks they can write in, extras for the classroom, $$$ for the performing arts/field trips…well it gets to be a bit much.


June 4th, 2012
4:28 pm

I loved it when our elementary school had a fundraiser auction. I spent almost $800. We used all the things we got: dinners, movie tickets, salons, dog treat baskets, hotel stays, oil change, gift cards etc.

@ FCM….funds are down for field trips. Typically, just for a class to get on the bus…it is $5 and not even leave the parking lot. This covers the driver, bus, gas and insurance. I charge about $1 per child to come to the school. Some schools cannot even afford that. I saw that Fernbank was cutting back too….sad. I remember how much the kids liked Sci Trek and it closed too!

Tonya C.

June 4th, 2012
4:41 pm


I actually agree with you on this one. I despise fundraisers, and would prefer to fork over the cash in the form of a check. One of the charter schools our son attended did this a few years back and it was great. Every quarter you paid $25-50 as a donation and you were done. It was fabulous. Much better than being nickle and dimed to death.

Shannon W

June 4th, 2012
4:45 pm

My kids go to Catholic school and the PTG is very upfront that the diocese expects them to raise a certain % of the school budget every year. It comes out to $300 per student. They also detail the % return on all the fundraisers and mention straight donations as one way to cover it. Any extra money made goes for school needs.

We do a mix of high return fundraisers and donations and I don’t mind it.

I would be upset if the PTG gave the money to other schools.


June 4th, 2012
4:47 pm

My son’s school doesn’t do any of the annoying fundraisers thankfully. They started an annual auction last year and it was been a huge success. They do a silent auction first, then dinner and then a live auction. Lots of fun and I bought stuff I’d actually use.


June 4th, 2012
5:00 pm

What’s the rationale here? It’s petty and spiteful to want to see schools in well-off areas suffer just because some schools are going through hard times right now. Does anyone really think it makes sense to prevent parents and other concerned citizens from contributing to local schools just because people in some other districts might feel envious? It would just increase the number of underfunded schools and discourage parental involvement.


June 4th, 2012
5:17 pm

Why shouldn’t the principle beneficiaries, rather than general taxpayers, shoulder part of the financial burden of public education for their children? Why shouldn’t people who produce get more and better services than people who count on others to produce for the non-producers and their offspring?


June 4th, 2012
6:30 pm

Seeing that we can’t get 50 people (out of 630 kids) to pay $3 to join the PTO, our fundraisers are pretty slim. When you have nearly 80% of the kids on free lunch, their isn’t a lot of extra parental money around.

Common Sense

June 4th, 2012
7:07 pm

Why don’t they ever ask people to come in and point out all the ways they waste money?


June 4th, 2012
9:34 pm

@ motherjanegoose—I don’t think the issue is about busy but about options. I have always worked in flexible work situations. It has always been important before different positions; however my skills, education and experience allows me to dictate that. In turn, I am able to be visible at my children’s school. Most parents that are low income don’t have vacation, work schedule flexibility, telecommuting opportunities; when the choice is between your job to provide the basic living necessities and volunteering at the school, providing housing and food has to take precedent.

midnight garden

June 4th, 2012
9:46 pm

First off, I can’t stand Boosterthon! What a rip off and it wastes a lot of curriculum time. I had no idea they gave prizes out later and made the rest of the class feel like dirt for not raising more money. I give most of my school donation at our public school during our annual basket raffle where the schools gets to keep all the money and the gift baskets items are donations made by each class according to a theme. Its a lot of fun and there’s a chance you might win something.


June 5th, 2012
8:41 am

@ redandblackpeachy…some are not working at all. Seems like they could volunteer at the school. Transportation could be the problem! If they have 3 siblings under school age, that is a problem too.

@ midnight…I LOVE the gift baskets. A wonderful idea I saw was that each class had a theme:

Car care
Hair care

Each student is asked to bring in something for the class basket, as a donation. You would perhaps have 20-25 items in the basket. Then parents bid on the baskets. If you got $100-200 per basket and had 50 plus baskets…WOW! The teacher or room parent is in charge of wrapping the goodies up in a neat basket. Some parents can get gift cards, for the baskets, donated by businesses!


June 5th, 2012
8:43 am

@midnight…duh…I did not read your entire post….sorry. Maybe my specifics would inspire someone else?

midnight garden

June 5th, 2012
9:25 am

motherjane.. I think we are on the same page. Love basket raffle…don’t like the Boosterthon which is a different fundraiser. Our school basket themes have been in addition to the ones you mentioned things like a Lego basket, staycation (gift cards for things to do locally), Ga Tech (shirts, footballs), UGA, Falcons items, Hello Kiftty, Mall gift cards.. just to name a few.


June 5th, 2012
11:55 am

@midnight…hoorah! I saw the gift baskets at a school in Wyoming and mentioned each child sending something in. This had not occurred to them and the room parent was in charge of the entire basket. They liked it. I think sending things in simplifies things but you may get goofy donations…oh well, they ARE donations.

Warrior Woman

June 5th, 2012
4:39 pm

@TWG – To answer your questions:

1. I would far rather write a check than do fundraisers. One of my children’s schools used to offer this option, but stopped because of complaints from parents that didn’t like the option and didn’t want anyone else to have it either.

2. It is inappropriate to reduce state funding for a school because it has strong parent support. Further, as Jessica said, it is spiteful to punish parents that are willing and able to donate to their schools because other parents either can’t or won’t. The state’s obligation is not negated by parent or other donations, and such donations cannot be assumed to continue.

3. It depends, but I would prefer not. If I want to donate to a school other than the ones my children attend, I will do so. However, if the PTA or PTSA for those schools raised money as if it were for those schools and then donated it elsewhere, I would consider that fraud.

4. I have no problem with “public private” schools, public school foundations, private schools, charter schools, voucher programs, school choice, or homeschools. I think more choice and diversity in education would be a great thing.


June 5th, 2012
5:58 pm

My kids’ school gave up having Boosterthon come in and just decided to run their own. The kids got water bottles and t-shirts, and the school got to keep all of the money they raised rather than giving half of it to Boosterthon. We definitely liked that much better. It takes more work, but if you have the volunteers, it’s definitely the way to go.


June 6th, 2012
7:40 am

I am not convinced that most people from “low-income households” cannot afford to join the PTO of their children’s school. Our children are refugees from a charter school. Under the charter, all families were required to join; memberships started at $10/year. We heard an enormous number of creative reasons why women with designer bags, signature SUVs and perfect nails could not afford the dues, and needed hardship waivers. Most were too used to other people paying the freight for them and their children.


June 6th, 2012
8:44 am

@lexi…what you have seen has been discussed here before, under different topics. I hear it from teachers all across the country. People make a choice on how to spend their money. In some cases they are spending your money and my money in ways we would not be spending it…if you know what I mean.


June 7th, 2012
8:57 am

@ MJG … I said when your asked to do all of it, it gets a bit much.

And OMG when I refuse to support something (ie send in a check) of cash) the parents all email, your child is the only one. Or the adminstrator/teacher calls and says, well we see you didn’t send in a check, do we need to put you in touch with United Way? (Yes they said that—and um, I support United Way with a payroll deduction thanks!).

Why is that because I choose to spend my $$$ on some things and decide not too on others that I get called out? Are they trying to guilt me into it? ROFL