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).

Should PTAs be allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds exclusively on their own public schools?

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NEWS, SCHOOLS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. lovethatphoto says:

      I think the comment that supporitng your child’s school is a act for the “greater good” points to how far we are from any real respect for that notion in our society. Supporting a school because your child goes there and then implying that this has to do with a public virtue misses the point of what constitutes the public and our obligations towards each other. The public good doesn’t exactly end in your own backyard. And those who can’t “choose” because they actually have to live in neighborhoods they can afford (the kind of place this commentator clealry chooses to not live in) need the same benefits for their children as those who have the money to choose their residence and pay for their child’s educational needs at the same time.
      I also agree with the point raised in the article that by allowing parents to support their local school rather than take into account all schools and students in their charity, these parents who likely carry the greatest political clout in the city are not likely to take part in protesting the underfunidng of education by the government. It is a brilliant move by city goverment to silence those who are best at moblizing resistance but an unfortunate one for those who actually believe in the public good and tyhe maintnace of means to promote it.

    2. Anni says:

      Actually, the parent body at PS87 disproves your comment “there‚Äôs no incentive for them to get involved politically when the city or state want to cut public education.” PS87 parents are very visible education and budget activists – you see them at every meeting of the community board & the CEC, at city council hearings, on Albany lobbying trips and in front of elected officials’ faces – often, the issues in which they are involved benefit schools far beyond their own. I doubt there’s another school with a parent body that is more active this way, and I applaud my community for it. That said, and as much as I love having it as my neighborhood school, I do think that having school zones in this district is almost entirely an sharp divider on economic and racial lines. Until we erase the zones, you will continue to see a have and have nots situation school-wise.

      • lovethatphoto says:

        In response to Anni, you avoid the difficuldt issue of redistributing donations to all school children rather than keeping it for your own. I often think that money in the hand is also a real test of one’s egalitarianism. If the parents at PS 87 could raise enough money or somehow the school received a very large donation from someone and their children had all that they needed (ok, a fantasy) would those parents be inclined to continue the battle? If the attitude of the initial responder was an indication of the public good of these parents, I doubt it. You need to get beyond such local thinking and see yourself as a citizen of the city, not just of the UWS.

        • Anni says:

          I wasn’t speaking to the whole fundraising discussion and I may not have been clear, but looking beyond the UWS is exactly what many PS87 parents already do – budget fights to help funding for all of our schools, and pressure on the city to create more seats, fund special ed, improve school food, stop charter co-locations etc etc.

    3. Jessica says:

      This is absurd and obviously written by someone not at all familiar with the UWS public schools. PS 87 parents are among the most politically active in the city. They have started numerous petitions, which are then circulated to the rest of the schools to protest budget cuts, special ed cuts and standardized testing – not mention leading the fight against charter schools and fighting for the school in the Extel building site.
      Also, anyone who bothers to look at actual DOE budgets (yes, you can see them on the DOE website under Galaxy allocation) will see that PS 87 is one of the least funded schools on the UWS. They get about 6K/student over all as opposed to other schools which receive about 10K/student. Their PA raises about $700 per student. That doesn’t begin to make up that difference. (the other 800K is from their afterschool program that is a self-sustaining program, not fund-raising.)
      PS 87 also doesn’t qualify for an arts grants programs so they pay full price for the programs they bring in – and therefor help subsidize other schools who receive those chess, wellness, dance and art programs for free.
      Don’t write an article without any supporting facts. Using commenters as your basis for an argument is lazy at best and dishonest at worst.

    4. Cato says:

      It is naive — or worse — to write that a PTA’s success at fundraising is “a strong testament to … how rich [the parents] are.”

      The rich parents aren’t sending their precious to public schools in the first place.

      Rather, parents sending their kids to public schools are, by definition, *not* wealthy enough to afford the Daltons and Saint Goldmansachses available to the uber rich.

      And let’s face it — the parents with the social and political clout to affect those who govern us aren’t sending kids to PS 87. They’re at the private schools. Fortunately, that doesn’t keep the rest of us rabble from raising our voices to try to be heard, as you’ve already heard from others posting here. We’re just not the ones the politicians really care to listen to.

      I guarantee you that middle class parents, with their kids at the local public school, aren’t simply sitting back forking over cash and deciding not to waste time advocating for more public funding. So it’s equally unfair of you to attribute that laziness to them. Whatever they give to the school is money that they could use at home — not to fund this week’s BMW SUV.

      “Private schools subsidized with public money”? You should be ashamed. Go take a walk around any public school, even the PS 87 that seems to have incurred your ire, then go explore one of the $40,000 a year palaces. You won’t see much similarity. Middle class parents aren’t going to bridge that rift even by buying extra lemonade at this year’s street-fair fund raiser.

      Let’s not get diverted from the need to rally to demand better public educational support. Your “rich PTA vs poor PTA” dichotomy is not only factually wrong, but also threatens to divide those who must work together to get more city and state money if we are ever going to get our [public] schools up to where they should be.

    5. A. S. Evans says:

      First, many less advantaged schools receive Title 1 monies and surprisingly have a much bigger budget than a “middle class” school, even in the same building which happened in my son’s middle school.

      Instead of making all schools bad and lacking in funding let’s try to raise up all schools and provide adequate funding for all.

      Lastly, many of the parents from the “middle class” schools are the fiercest defenders and advocates for all NYC children.

      Also, I don’t see many private school parents involved in the fight for educational equity.

    6. Avi, you know I’m your biggest fan and practically print my own “West Side Rag” t-shirts, but I gotta disagree with you on this one. So that I don’t pile on, let me mention only what PS9 parents fund: assistant teachers (about 50% of the $500k raised), Spanish and Chess. There are other smaller items but those three constitute about 90% of the expense budget. I don’t consider them amenities but rather the gap-fills to DOE cuts. And our parents are *super* active.

      Keep up the great blog, my friend.

    7. CC says:

      Obviously funding for schools is a huge issue and some schools benefit from an affluent parent body. No debate. That said, the NY Times article was grossly misleading, to the point of being offensive. Pss87 raised approx 700-750k to support school programs, and the afterschool took in approx 700-750k to pay for the afterschool program.. like a business.. no profit… people pay for the kids to go to afterschool. Thats not fundraising.

    8. J says:

      I think instead of chastising the parents and businesses that helped the PTA make $1.2 million we should instead be asking ourselves why other PTAs are not able to do more. I can tell you my daughter started Kindergarten this year and our PTA is a joke. They do the same petty fundraisers year after year. Sell a pumpkin.. make $.50 … I understand there are constraints on what parents can donate depending on where a school is located.. But there are lots of ways to make money – have a health/craft fair with local business (sell tables, sell food, invite locals in the area). Most of these groups do not think about of the box… i was told the other day that because I work they haven’t contacted me about volunteering (eventhough I’ve asked 10 times to 5 different people) because I don’t have time to copy papers in the morning… That is exactly the problem PTA is more of a social gathering than a fundraising team.. PS 87 has obviously found the path to success and more PTA should try to learn from them instead of chastising them for making that money.