The New York Times has a somewhat shocking article in this weekend’s paper: it turns out that the PTA at PS 87 on West 78th Street raised more than $1.5 million for the school this year. Other local schools also raised huge sums: from $500,000+ at PS 199 to more than $1 million at the Anderson School. That money pays for assistant teachers, great classroom equipment, and tons of other amenities.
It’s a strong testament to how much Upper West Side parents care about education, and how rich they are. It also makes some people queasy: if we have a public education system that’s already racked by inequality, should kids from rich neighborhoods have such huge advantages over kids from poorer neighborhoods? Essentially, some say, these are private schools that happen to be subsidized with public money. Said one NYT commenter:
“Publicly subsidized effectively private schools should be illegal. Period.
Why? Because the wealthy have significant advantages (money, time, and superb educations being foremost) that become disconnected from the public good when these considerable resources are allowed to focus exclusively, with a public subsidy even, on their own children.”
City schools have had their funding cut by 13.7% on average over the past five years, the Times notes, and this money allows local schools to keep running without big cuts. It’s clear from data that city schools remain extremely divided based on race and class, and that the overall system is a mess: how else to read stats showing only 43.9% of students in the city are proficient in reading?
Here’s the other problem that’s not addressed in the article: if wealthy parents can always improve their local schools with private money, then there’s no incentive for them to get involved politically when the city or state want to cut public education. Why would you need to fight if your kid’s school is going to be fine no matter how badly education gets cut? That arguably removes the voices of people with the political and social ties to actually demand that public officials respond to them.
In school systems in some other parts of the country, PTA money is expected to be shared throughout the school system. But that doesn’t happen in New York, and nonprofit fundraising hasn’t bridged the gap. That said, many parents argue that parents who want to invest in their childrens’ education shouldn’t be stopped from doing so. As another commenter wrote:
“The parents don’t want anything back except a better school experience for their children. Isn’t that why you choose to live where your kids can go to better schools? The parents could just buy their own kids iPads and Macs, but instead they are donating for the greater good. And that is bad?”
What do you think? Let us know in the comments and in our poll below:
Addendum Sunday night: Inspired by one of the commenters below, I checked out the PS 87 budget, and it does show that the city gives less to PS 87 for afterschool and summer programs and professional development than to the average city school, and offers less money per pupil ($13,362 for general ed students versus $15,205 citywide).