School Fundraising Fundamentally Unfair

bake sale fundraiser backdoor privatizationI’m lucky; my kids can’t wait to start school. I won’t have any of those struggles with getting them to go to bed early enough so they can get up and get ready for their first day next week. I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine that summer destroys no matter how many camps I sign them up for. But there is one thing about the coming school year that I dread and that is fundraising. Budget cutbacks will require more of it and it’s up to parents to get it done.

I wouldn’t find fundraising so bad, if it were a little more optional than it is. But as Alyssa Battistoni writes for Salon, schools and other public institutions are relying more and more on parents’ monetary contributions to even get by. This backdoor privatization is undermining everything from schools to public transportation to police and fire departments. Sure, it may be sold as stop-gap right now, but budgets will soon rely on parents to supply toilet paper for their K-12 kids.

The real problem, however, is the unfairness of it all.

Sure, toilet paper costs the same no matter who is buying it. But schools with wealthier families will feel the hit of privately funded TP much much less than the poor school across town. In fact, schools in wealthier neighborhoods will not only be able to fund a full year of bathroom hygiene, they’ll also be able to maintain their music programs and upgrade the computer lab. The other side of the tracks will have to make due with old books and a P.E. teacher once a week.

I know this from personal experience. My kids attend a public charter school which actually has a student population that reflects the socio-economic make-up of the city where we live. The neighborhood schools, on the other hand, reflect the neighborhoods they live in — wealthy families go to schools with very few children who qualify for free and reduced lunches. Other schools serve a population of nearly 100 percent who qualify.

Those less wealthy schools, such as the one my kids attend, bust their humps just trying to raise $2,000 (and astounding amount) in attempts to keep the music teacher. The nice neighborhood public school? They make a few phone calls and suddenly their kids have a Spanish program.

It takes a village and all that and I’m not begrudging wealthy families the fruits of their fortunes. The fact that they send their kids to public schools at all is super fabulous and I’m glad there are good ones that keep them there. I also know this is the wrong time pitch the idea of states giving schools more, not less. As if! But as lawmakers chip away at school budgets, even if everyone is getting cut by the same percent, there is a harsh inequality when it comes to who suffers the most. Many families are tapped out after fulfilling the growing list of back-to-school items, leaving nothing for those fundamental extras (P.E., music, art, technology) that parents — not the public — are expected to pay.

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