Why Things Are So Tight
Yet schools are increasingly dependent on parents buying those T-shirts and selling that wrapping paper, particularly when it comes to funding programs that aren't considered to be part of the "core" curriculum (think art, music, and sports). As school budgets continue to be slashed, states have less money than ever to spend on education. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states and the District of Columbia have made significant cuts to school funding since 2008. Colorado, for example, has slashed $260 million from school budgets in 2011, a reduction amounting to more than $400 per student.
To make matters worse, the same troubled economy that's shrinking school budgets is also sending stay-at-home moms back into the workforce and squeezing the schools' go-to source of free labor even further. Rachel Loventhal is one of the overwhelmed. The nurse-practitioner from Atlanta wants to help, but between running a household and working full-time it's just too much. "I feel like each day it's just a struggle to get us fed, clean, wearing appropriate clothing, and have lunch packed and everyone to work and school on time. There's always something that fails to get checked off the to-do list, and for me, that's fundraising activities," says Loventhal.
It's not only parents who wish there were a better way. Even before the economy went south and school budgets were being slashed, a survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found in 2007 that 64 percent of principals would do away with fundraising entirely if they could. They felt that all the efforts to raise money distracted students, overburdened parents, and interfered with teacher agendas. Still, nearly 90 percent of the principals surveyed believed the benefits justified the time and effort involved. Why? Well, for one thing, it works. "Traditional fundraising sales for products like wrapping paper, cookie dough, and T-shirts account for roughly 80 percent of the dollars that parent groups use to provide 'extras' for their school," explains Tim Sullivan, founder and president of PTO Today, an organization that serves PTO and PTA leaders nationally.
He's probably right, but as I sat at a red light one day behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomb! I vowed to explore some other paths.