This blog post was written by Jennifer Harjehausen, PTA member in the Kent School District, for our edCored series on education funding. If you want to be notified when new content is published in this month-long series, please subscribe to the LEV Blog’s RSS feed or once-a-day email digest.

At the end of August, our school board approved and the teachers ratified a new two-year contract. The 1.9% salary reduction mandated by our state legislature was not passed down to our teachers. Kent School District, like many districts, pulled the money from somewhere else.

Hmmm . . . the first thing I thought when I read this was – “Great, more PTA fundraising.” To say that fundraising is a challenge at my school would be an understatement. We are very small – hovering around 300 students – and are 70% low income.

As state and district and building and PTA budgets drop year after year, the pressure on our PTA to eliminate the “fun” programs continues. Things like having the Pacific Science Center visit are memories. Unless it’s a free assembly or a “must-have” program, it’s just not happening anymore. Our PTA must supply the trash bags used at PTA-sponsored events. We buy the sanitizing wipes for the computer lab. We buy the underwear and spare clothes kept in the office for when kids need them. And, more and more each day, it’s just about these bare necessities.

Just yesterday, my principal wrote to me asking if our PTA had found a grant-writing chair yet. While the PTA historically has purchased 15 copies of “Battle Books” each year, the school can no longer afford to buy five extras that it usually does for study groups. To think that our kids may not have the same resources as other kids to participate in this district-wide event is truly heartbreaking.

Of course, I want to jump in and fix the problem. I’ve already started thinking of ways to get the books, but then I remember that I need to continue to advocate and share my knowledge with others. Only by changing the big picture can we change the outcome. By fixing problems as they arise and putting band-aids on the ever-increasing gap with fundraising and grant applications, we as PTA ARE NOT serving our children. We are enabling the system that is not putting our kids first. We are contributing to the achievement gap, opportunity gap, funding gap, or whatever you want to call the gap between the kids who have and those kids who have not.

Instead of the dreaded Fundraising word being associated with PTA, let’s get back to our roots and put Advocacy first.

7 comments on “edCored: The F word

  1. Ahhh co-dependency a word every addicts mother shy’s away from.I think Jennifer is suggesting that maybe we get caught up in the cycle of plugging the holes. That as these funding short falls come to us incrementally year by year we think we…as local PTA units, councils and regions,or other community groups, we can somehow fill the gap by creative grant writing, bake sales, raffles and auctions.That if only we could raise more money, we could somehow change all the educational outcomes and our child, and their classmates will have the bright future we picture for them. I know that I bought into the fundraising solution. Even as I worked harder and harder at Advocacy I can tell you that deep in my heart I believed that fundraising was the true solution. That if we just funded education differently, more fully all children would succeed. Then it hit me, like a retroactive mid year budget cut, the”more money” I’ve been counting on, the fully funded answer to my prayers, it isn’t coming. It isn’t coming, and that is very clear. Bake sales be dammed, we have to do better with what we have, we have to more with less from here forward. I won’t stop raising money, and I won’t stop asking the state to fully fund K-12 education, but I will stop thinking that funding is a one stop solution to Washington’s education problems.

  2. As the Fundraising Chair at the same Kent school, I feel the pressure to raise those funds. It is hard to ask our families (70% low income, like Jennifer said) to raise those $’s. Our first fundraiser of the year is just wrapping up and it looks like we made about $2,000. Instead of celebrating that ($2,000 is a success!), I find myself worried about the NEXT fundraiser……. How are we going to reach our goal of $4,500??? We aren’t even halfway there…… Will $4,500 be enough to do those things we planned? Our budget says yes, but you never know.
    As parents, we know that we don’t involve our children in adult issues. Our education system is such violation of that principal………… our adult issues are directly impacting our children and it’s not fair. I hope through exploring Advocacy (and looking beyond my child’s school and into the big picture), I can effect changes.

    1. and yet, our US gov’t can afford spending 700million dollars on Libya’s “liberation”, opening day. now we will have to ‘sacrifice’ even more, if isreal releases their Hate upon iran. we will truly be broke when all our neighbors are @war. i wanna goto school – but, i cant! because wa state feels they want their money back for being a caregiver over looking for jobs, while starting college, at 22. i’d be lying if i said i didn’t grow into a bigger person from it all. and try not to worry; whatever happens.

  3. Does the PTA maintain the gap rather than close it? Depends on how you look at it. On one hand, if you look at the bigger picture, we absolutely do. However, if you look at the local units we absolutely CLOSE the gap. At my local elementary where I am currently Co-President and Leg Chair we provide services and programs that help close the gap for the children in need at our school. We provide scholarships for field trips, sports, music and summer school. We help provide supplies and clothes for the nurse. We help pay for lunches when family funds are not available. We offer stipends to our teachers that is used for classroom supplies and help getting the kiddos supplies they need.
    And there is more; we also close the gap with volunteers and the programs they deliver. When our district cut our reading specialists we starting a reading coaches program. Our volunteers help with safety before and after school and serve breakfast in the morning.
    But wait, there is more still; we also advocate. We educate ourselves and our parent’s about the issues. I personally talk with the district, school board and union leaders (probably more than some would like). We also attend trainings, meetings and events in Olympia.

    So, does my PTA maintain the gap? Maybe…but will I stop? NO! I won’t stop doing my best to make sure that every kid at my school has what they need to succeed.

    Here is the key in my eyes…this issue isn’t just about fund raising, if it was I’d say we need to get out of the PTA business. What we do is more than fundraising, it is volunteering and it is advocating. So I will continue to fund raise, I will continue to volunteer and I will continue to advocate.

  4. It seems as though the answer to whether or not PTA is “enabling” the further erosion of education funding depends upon the level of the organization that you look at. There are so many activities and efforts, like you all have listed so far, that seek to step in and cover the shortfalls that happen when the state cuts school funding. This is a necessary thing, and the members I know are committed to doing this so that the students don’t have to suffer for the decisions made by adults. But external appearances would make it seem that everything is okay, because PTA volunteers and money have maintained what the state would have taken away. So, in that case, you could argue that we DO maintain the gap. If PTA went away tomorrow, the erosion of funding and all that that entails would be so obvious to any observer.
    If you look at the state level, the opposite could be argued. We have been advocating for years for, among other things, a redefinition and full funding of Basic Education. We organize and recruit members to put pressure on our legislators and other decision makers to stop the cuts. We are the ones who carry the message to our elected leaders about what we see in our schools and our communities everyday. We must tell them of the devastating effects that the policies and budget decisions that they made have had on our communities. We must develop relationships with our legislators so that we have these ongoing conversations about how the cuts play out in individual student’s lives. We let our electeds know how much PTAs have to do to backfill the holes they have made. By shining the light on the gap between the needs of our students and the educational opportunities that are ACTUALLY offered to them, we help to close it.
    You do not need to be a policy wonk in order to lobby your legislator on behalf of children. All you have to do is CARE, and be willing to tell your story. PTA has the resources and training to help you do this effectively. Join us!

  5. WSPTA and our units enable systemic discrimination. It’s like what would happen with Charter Schools (sorry, Kelly). Them’s that’s got is satisfied with the Status Quo. Them’s that don’t, well, too bad.

    We underfund Auburn Schools $17k per classroom less than State average. Same problem in Kent. Who gives a damn? Certainly not those satisfied with their kids’ education.

    Meanwhile, the opportunity gap grows, and grows, and grows …

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