This Teacher Brought to You by Your Local PTA
The article in this week’s Time Magazine would be funny if it weren’t so obtuse. It’s called, “PTA Wars” and the intro line is, “In public schools across the country, parent groups are fighting for the right to fill in budget gaps.”
Really? Really? This is news?
Wonders Julian Weissglass, professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “But what happens to schools in poorer areas, where parents can’t afford to do this? It’s very troubling,” he concludes.
Yes, I’d call it “troubling.” It’s very troubling that some communities can pay for a better education for their kids than other communities. Perhaps Professor Weissglass is unfamiliar with school districts in many states that must put their budgets up for a popular vote every year. He might be interested to know that in New York State, for example, the per-pupil expenditure can be roughly twice as much in some wealthy districts as it is in poorer districts. And that’s without the contributions of sports booster clubs, band parents, and yes, the PTA. Perhaps it’s time to review Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities yet again.
What concerns some schools, however, where the PTA is underwriting the salaries of a specific teacher or two, is how much control parents will expect over hiring and firing. Schools, understandably, would like to avoid the U Conn situation in which a $3 million dollar donor asked for his money back when his opinion wasn’t sought in hiring the new football coach.
School personnel also worry that salaries supported by the PTA may not be sustainable, given turnover in parent leadership. This argument is valid, as anyone who has ever instituted programs with grant monies can tell you. When the grant runs out, can the general operational budget supplant grant monies? Something to think about before the programs are implemented.
PTAs in some California communities (and elsewhere) are raising big bucks, not the kind of money you get from collecting box tops or sponsoring craft fairs. And it’s likely that folks who underwrite salaries will want to have some say in who is drawing them. But this isn’t really the problem.
Wealthy communities can offer more educational opportunities to their children than poor communities can. That’s the bottom line and it isn’t news. Core standards are great; everyone can rally around shared academic goals. It makes for positive press. But equitable funding for schools? Not really as catchy.