WHO SAYS PARENTS in poor neighborhoods are less supportive of their public schools than those in more affluent parts of town? Lots of people may assume so, but a special and growing group of parents in Washington is turning that around dramatically, with the help of others who know how to make -- and make up -- a difference. That difference is money. PTAs in some neighborhoods can raise plenty every year and pour it into all sorts of enrichment programs in their public schools. Other PTAs can come up with smaller amounts -- and here's where the Washington Parent Group Fund steps in with matching funds that have spurred impressive parental involvement.

Ask the increasingly active parents in nine Anacostia schools that were the first beneficiaries of the Parent Group's efforts in 1981. It was then and there that some volunteer attorneys recruited by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law pinpointed the absence of enrichment programs that were routinely underwritten by parent groups in other parts of the city and the suburbs. Local business leaders and school system administrators responded, and fund-raising began; corporate and other private contributions would be added for each dollar raised by a school's parents.

More money meant more programs -- and in turn more parents who realized the results of their involvement. Projects have included purchases of reading workbooks, programs of nutrition and hygiene, parent-teacher aides, audio materials, wall charts and computers. This year the Washington Parent Group Fund is expanding its operations to serve 50 schools. In addition -- because of the national acclaim this idea has received -- all money raised from private business and local foundations counts toward meeting a three-year, $150,000 challenge grant provided by the Public Education Fund in Pittsburgh.

School Superintendent Floretta Dukes McKenzie credits the Parent Group Fund with creating a "a renewed spirit and enthusiasm. . . . It has begun to make a real difference in our community." So far, more than 100 businesses, foundations and individuals have contributed to make this important difference. If still others follow suit, the results in years ahead could be all the more impressive.