Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article quoted from a study by the Center for American Progress that asserted Janney Elementary School’s PTA had raised nearly $1.4 million in a recent school year. That provided a misleading picture of the PTA’s revenue sources in the 2013-14 school year. Tax records show that more than $900,000 of the revenue was collected for program services. PTA leaders say that families pay fees for various after-school and academic enrichment programs and that the PTA also raised about $458,000 that year in donations. The center has clarified that its study of tax records included all sources of PTA revenue, which may include after-school program payments. This version has been updated.
Five public elementary schools in Northwest D.C. benefit every year from hundreds of thousands of dollars in private revenue supplied by parent organizations, money that pays for extras such as a new art teacher and classroom aides, according to a new study. The PTA at one of those schools collected nearly $1.4 million in donations, program fees and other revenue in one recent school year.
The parent-teacher organizations at four elementary schools — Stoddert, Key, Horace Mann and Murch — each received more than $300,000 in the 2013-2014 school year, the study found. Janney Elementary School’s PTA received $1.39 million that same school year, making it the fifth-wealthiest PTA in the country, said the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. Janney PTA leaders say most of that funding – more than $900,000 – was revenue from fees charged for after-school and enrichment programs, with about $458,000 collected in donations.
Catherine Brown, one of the study’s authors, said D.C. reflects the wealth disparities seen in other school districts. The study, released in early April, looks at the outsize role parent contributions play in school financing.
While most traditional public schools in the District have student populations that come from low-income families, there are a handful of schools in more affluent areas where families are raising large amounts.
Those schools can ask the PTA to pay for school trips, additional instructional coaches and other materials or activities that enrich the student experience. Meanwhile, schools that do not have significant PTA funding have to pay for those things through public school budgets, or they may not be able to afford them at all, the study said.
“If we consistently have a system where kids from higher-income families get more of the pie, then we are not going to address the achievement gaps,” Brown said.
CAP said it used tax documents to collect the data for its report and sought input from the school system, but did not reach out to individual PTAs.
Presidents from the parent-teacher groups at Janney and Stoddert noted that the revenue reported by CAP for their organizations includes payments for after-school programs as well as money earned through fundraising. CAP on Tuesday issued a clarification saying that the revenue figures in the report include all sources of funding.
The presidents of the other three parent-teacher organizations did not respond to requests for comment.
Michelle Lerner, the system’s spokeswoman, said the school system has a budget that supports student needs, including art, music, access to field trips and foreign language programs in every school.
“As a district, we will also be identifying ways to differentiate additional support for some of our schools whose families are unable to provide these additional resources,” Lerner said.
The school system did not say whether it considers parent donations when determining school budgets.
“We’re proud to have engaged parents that advocate for their school communities in a variety of ways, including time, talent and resources,” Lerner said.
The study argues that lower-
income schools in the District are at a disadvantage over those where parent groups add to the budget.
“By providing resources to schools without factoring in the role of outside dollars, Washington allows the most affluent students and their schools to receive more money than the students and schools who have the highest need,” the study said.
CAP wants to see school districts put policies in place that would benefit schools that do not get large parent donations. One solution could be to pool a portion of parent donations from schools in more affluent areas to those in lower-income neighborhoods. Another would be to regulate the use of PTA dollars or to incorporate parent donations into school budgets so federal dollars could go elsewhere.
The Portland, Ore., school district, for example, has a citywide foundation that enables schools to start their own local school grant to raise private dollars to pay for in-school staff positions. After the schools surpass $10,000, the school foundations must give one-third of their dollars to the district foundation. The district foundation then awards low-income schools with “equity grants,” the study said.
Brown said CAP does not want to discourage families from donating to their schools, but they want to see families advocate for adequate funding across the system.
“You should take action to ensure the system overall is funded at the level that is needed,” Brown said.