Even Out PTAs: An Easy and Elegant Solution to School Inequality

Rising income inequality is old news. America has experienced an uninterrupted increase in inequality since 1980 that is higher than in any other advanced economy. Disparities in school funding rarely make headlines anymore, but they should: before the pandemic, there was a $23 billion gap between white and nonwhite school districts, even though they serve the same number of children; that number has only grown.

These two forces collide in PTA fundraising, and therein lies an elegant and available solution. Each year, according to the Center for American Progress, PTAs raise roughly $425 million to support extra projects beyond the school’s official, publicly-funded budget. Those funds fuel coaches, music teachers, trips to Washington, DC, maker spaces, labs, sports uniforms, pizza parties, teacher appreciations, and myriad other things, limited only on what a school community can raise and what a school community desires. What to do with the contributions, which are tax-deductible, don’t require district approval or have to conform with any governmental competitive priorities? It can reflect, plain and simple, the values and priorities of each school community. But only if there is money. And that money depends on the wealth and connections of the school’s parent body. Most schools raise almost nothing from their PTAs, but some wealthy schools, like Robert S. Hyer Elementary in Dallas, raise almost $2,000 per student.

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