Post education writers Michael Alison Chandler and Emma Brown last week tackled the difficult subject of educational inequality and how parents may be unwittingly contributing to it.
In “D.C. area schools turn to parents for more funding as budgets are squeezed,” they wrote about how school-based PTAs are increasingly supplementing school budgets, especially in the District. The trend is contributing to a growing divide between the services offered to kids in have schools and have-not schools.
The story generated a heated conversation in comments, with some extolling the support PTAs provide budget-crunched schools and others criticizing parents for what one reader said was insisting on “gold-plated’ educations.
The issue is more nuanced than that, of course. Very few, if any, public schools in the region are over-indulging students on the education front. Budget cuts are the norm both locally and nationally.
The question is when every school has a “need” list, who gets to decide how and when those needs are met? Should it be up to school officials or should parents have a say?
Different districts have different rules on this front.
In D.C., some PTAs finance teacher and counselor salaries. In Montgomery and Fairfax counties, for instance, such personnel funding is not allowed. The contributions can instead be used for field trips and supplies — which some argue is an indirect way to allow the school to use money for hiring.
I happen to have read this story while in a rented beach house that my husband and I had bid on at the annual auction for my daughter’s elementary school. It had been our first auction and we made the rookie mistake of bidding on too much, but we came home from our expensive spree reassuring ourselves that plunging ourselves into debt had been for a “good cause.”
Maybe. But had it been a fair cause?
My daughter’s school is lacking in areas, yes, but not as lacking as many other schools in the city. Would it have been more fair that our contribution go toward a district-wide school fund?
The big picture answer to this seems to be that more equitable allocations are better for the community overall. The Post story mentioned a few cities that have begun pooling the parent contributions. This isn’t, however, a trend that’s being embraced widely.
Perhaps that’s because when it comes to parents making choices about their own stretched finances, the big picture quickly becomes murky. What’s best for the community is usually not as high a priority as what’s best for one’s own child, one’s own school.
What do you think? How and where should a parent’s financial contribution be used? And who gets to decide?