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Has School Fundraising Gone Too Far?

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Facing the Inevitable

Most people view school fundraising as necessary and are more or less okay with it. But some parents question recent methods. Blogger Laura Wellington, a New Jersey mother of five, found plenty of fodder in 2010 when her fifth-grade daughter came home from school with a letter stating that she was to earn $20 doing household chores, which then had to be contributed to the school to make up a budget shortfall.

"Paying my children to do chores goes against everything I believe in," Wellington said. "It's stepping on parents' toes and teaching the kids a lesson about how not to stay on budget."

Her blog entry touched a nerve and was picked up by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She even appeared on several television shows. One San Francisco parent commented on the blog, "I can testify that the drumbeat of fundraising is constant, relentless and impossible to ignore."

Wellington was incensed again later in the year, when her daughter came home with an info packet about how to have her artwork reproduced on a shirt or clipboard for $12. "I understand they need the money, but I feel like every time a kid does something, it turns into an opportunity to fundraise," Wellington said.

To counteract this, some PTAs have started asking parents to make a specific one-time donation at the beginning of the school year. For example, Saylors says, his child's elementary school asked every family to contribute $100. The concept met with "limited success," he says. "Not everyone can write a check for $100, and the school's PTA still had to do a few fundraisers during the year."

Most parents—and kids—prefer actually doing something instead of just selling stuff. A car wash, a triathlon or a meal in a school gym where students serve and clean up are usually far better received than yet another candy sale. Auctions are popular, but again, income is a factor. In wealthier districts, parents can bid more and have the ability to donate (or fairly easily procure) desirable prizes, such as a week at someone's second home. Obviously, that is not a realistic option in poorer communities.