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Has School Fundraising Gone Too Far?

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History Lesson

Bake sales, car washes, raffles, auctions—fundraising is nothing new. But the reality of multiple years of slashed budgets means schools aren't just trying to cover extras like arts, athletics and field trips but also core necessities. In some cases, parents have banded together to raise money to literally keep schools open and pay teachers' salaries.

Such activities raise not only money but serious issues. When a wealthy suburban area is affected by budget cuts, the parents have the wherewithal to step forward to do pretty much whatever it takes to retain a teacher, program or athletic team, says Dan Domenech, Ph.D., executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. In poor communities? Not so. "That lack of resources is a major factor in terms of widening the achievement gap," says Domenech.

However, raising money for photo equipment is a far cry from selling cookies to pay teachers' salaries. In 2009 the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation in Indiana raised $217,000 to bring back five teachers who had been laid off due to budget cuts. Chuck Saylors, immediate past president of the National PTA, who is also a school board trustee in Greenville, South Carolina, worries about relying on fundraisers to essentially subsidize educational needs.

"That's very dangerous," according to Saylors. "Five years from now, when funding is more stable, state and county elected officials are going to say, 'We don't need to put more money in. The parents will pay.'" And relying on fundraising to cover basics makes it nearly impossible to do long-range planning, adds Domenech, because schools can't count on a similar amount of money coming in every year.