Donating Money to Public Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • Increased asks by school foundations

    (1 reply)

    Our school district foundation has increased its ask this year due to the state budget cuts.  Our family has always given the "ask amount" in past years even though the reported rate of families contributing the "ask amount" in our district is about 40%.  We are leaning toward not giving the increased ask and sticking to the regular ask this year at least until we learn whether school is in session as usual in the fall and what programs are in danger of being cut.  It seems crazy for us to give more for the "extras" when we hear that school might continue to be remote next fall, or even if it opens it will do modified schedule and disallow all the extra enrichment and special assembly and other activities the donated money is supposed to go to.  Plus if there is a risk of school continuing remote we will want to use the extra funds for virtual tutors and childcare as both parents are working and unable to help with homeschooling.  My question is whether other school foundations have asked for increased contributions to the fund due to the state cuts and whether they were open about what that money is going to be used for (as our school foundation is not transparent on that), and whether there has been any indication if schools are re-opening in the fall fully, in  modified way, or at all. 

    If you have the ability to give more, please do so, and do so soon. There are many unknowns about the upcoming school year, but one thing is clear - state funding will decline.  Whether your school is holding physical classes or doing online only in the fall, it will need more private funding in order to provide a quality education.  If classes are in session, there will be a need for funds to restructure the classrooms, increase cleaning schedules, provide PPE to teachers and students, etc. If classes are only online, more funding is needed for quality equipment for teachers and for helping teachers transition to effective online learning.  One of my children's current teachers had an ancient Chromebook when classes suddenly switched to online learning. Luckily, the parents were able to pool funds together to help her get a better computer, which means that all students in her class have a better learning experience. Now imagine that problem multiplied across all teachers in the district.  If everyone with the ability to pay more waits to see what they will "get" for their particular child in the fall, it only guarantees that what we all get will be less.  So please give early and as much as you can, so that schools have a better sense of what resources they have and can allocate them effectively before the school year starts.  If we all work together, we can ensure a better education for all of our kids.

    Also, if your employer matches funds for nonprofit donations, this is also a great time to make use of that benefit, to maximize funds for the schools.

  • We've just started in BUSD with a happy kinder.  I want to be an active and supportive parent but I'm totally confused by the fund-raising efforts.  The school seems to be constantly fund-raising.. $40 here for supplies, $100 for field trips, $100 for farm & garden, etc...  I'm honestly tired of the endless fund-raising and just want to write one check or scheduled monthly checks.  Soooo... my question is.. how much is a good annual donation or monthly donation?  We're pretty middle of the road income-wise.  We are saving a bit because he's no longer in a private pre-school but would also love to save some more for his college fund.

    How much do you donate to your BUSD elementary school?  How much is enough to be a solid public school supporter? 

    Our elem school tries to raise $400/student per year. Your employer may match so look into that. Usu the school pta is a 501c3. I agree it feels like a lot nickel and diming. 

    I know it's frustrating and tiresome, but as a PTA leader, I have to tell you that these fundraisers are what pay for any extras at your child's school - the stuff we took for granted when we were kids. There's no art, music, dance, aftercare without literally tens of thousands of dollars each year. So. How much is the right amount? I don't know your circumstances, but I think I end up donating about $200 each year to the school either in money, goods, and time. (Well, in time, I probably send thousands, so let's leave time out of it, yeesh.) But you should talk to your PTA about having this option at the beginning of the year! The thing is, you'll still hear the requests, so that might annoy you, but you can ignore them without guilt. Now that I think about it, maybe you should see how this year goes and add up all the different fundraising efforts, and then you'll know for next year -- since each school and PTA is so different. 

    Haha. I hear you. We are parents of a kindergartener that started at BUSD. We have given what seems like a ton of money already as well. Keen to read some replies.

    At the beginning of the year, most of the BUSD elementary school PTAs will do a capital fund drive, and they will say how much they spend per student per year. It ranges from $350 to $500 for the BUSD elementary schools. Just give what you can and don't worry too much about it. There are many different fundraisers during the year because they will (hopefully) raise money from different revenue streams--you aren't expected to participate in all of them. For example, there is usually the capital fund (which raises money from the students' families), the Read-a-Thon/Walk-a-Thon (extended family and friends), the auction (local businesses donate items), and some schools do a raffle (the kids sell tickets to the community at large). If you can afford it, give more than the per-student amount--many families do. There are also many more families who just give $100 or $50 per year, or even less. We are lucky that BSEP funds so much at BUSD schools, so it's really all good, whatever you can donate.

    I’m interested in seeing the replies to this. Our school PTA calculated how much they need for each student to maintain the programs at the school that are either funded by the PTA or at risk of being cut for lack of funding from other sources and they published that amount as $350 per student. We chose to donate 3x that in a lump sum - basically fund 3 kids at the school. We basically ignore most other fund raisers except the Read-A-Thon after that.

    It's all relative to how much expendable income you have. For each child, we set aside one month's preschool tuition for elementary school donations each year – auctions, etc. were on top of that. But volunteering in school is equally important to the cash donations. At the elementary school level, teachers really do need the extra support, and it sends an early message to your kids that you value education – and action always speaks louder than words. I still remember very fondly my time in my kids' classrooms and getting to know their teachers and classmates. As your child enters middle school and beyond, your physical presence in the school will no longer be needed or encouraged to the same extent. Take advantage of the time now, when the teachers and the kids still really want you there.

    We have two kids in one WCCUSD public elementary school and donated $850 last year, not counting non-deductible payments for supplies or whatever. (Just completed our taxes!) I think we probably should have done $1000, $500 per kid, based on our income which was $100K+. As an active PTA member, I think it's best to donate in one lump sum right at the beginning of the school year; it helps planning for the year.

    We donate $1000/year per kid in elementary school; less for our kid in middle school (maybe $300?) since we wind up having to pay for other school-related things and they don't seem to provide any supplies.

    So this might not be applicable because I'm in the peninsula, but our school asks for $1,500/child donation for their main fundraiser plus additional contributions for the smaller fundraisers such as read-a-thon, walk-a-thon, raffles/auctions, etc.  I usually end up giving a total of about $2,000/year for everything.  We do volunteer very little in the class since both parents work a lot and I rarely volunteer to bring stuff since I know I'll forget, so giving a donation on the higher side is our way of making up for it.  I think if I did more volunteering and gave more time, we might have given less in money, so everything is relative.  I'm jealous of the low asks in the BUSD schools since $1,500+ asks per child or family are pretty common here and the push to give that and more is intense.  

  • Until recently we planned to send our incoming K student into private school, but due to a move and resulting assignment to a very good public school decided to go to public school instead and reallocate the funds saved and put aside for private school tuition into college savings instead.  Even though most of the money will be eventually moved into kids' college saving account, we decided to donate a portion to the public school our child will attend every year.  I want to give the whole thing in an annual check and be done with it but husband wants to give the suggested donation amount the school/PTA requests in a check and then do something more special with the rest (like donate for a specific purpose, donate technology items, something special for the library, etc.).  His thinking is that the school already seems to be well funded and just another check won't make as much of a difference in students' experience as a more targeted donation.  Any suggestions as to what a well ranked and funded school might need in terms of a donation or is a check still better?  

    As someone with experience working with nonprofits and other institutions reliant on donations that I think I can safely to please give the check instead of trying to do something targeted. "Targeted" giving can be really rough; it's how you end up with the seemingly paradoxical situations at some universities where they have a seemingly nice endowment, but much or most of that is flagged for specific uses (like a specific department, a specifically targeting scholarship, some sort of specific research) so that they can't use that money where it may be really needed (general financial aid and operations).  I think pretty much most institutions would prefer "unrestricted" money and donations. If the school/PTA needs a specific technology item or something for the library, they can just use that unrestricted money for that. If not, they can use it for something else they do need. With a specific donation or a gifted item, if the school/PTA doesn't need it and needs money elsewhere, too bad, they have to just live with that and be gracious for it.

    As with any other organization, PTAs have internal politics. Before coming in and slapping down a big check, I would suggest simply joining the PTA to start with, participating in its meetings, and getting a feel for its mission, values, and the school needs. If after a few months of getting the lay of the land, you end up feeling like your particular elementary school doesn't "need" your extra money (and I definitely agree that it is a good thing to contribute above and beyond since you can; my family also does), you can look into either a district-wide philanthropic organization (Berkeley Educational Foundation, EdFund (WCCUSD), ec.) OR look at your local middle school/junior high PTA. Often times wealthier families pull out for middle school (returning in high school) and as a result the junior high PTAs are underfunded compared to elementary schools.

    All that said... my kids attend a relatively low income public school, and we do a larger donation at the start of the year to the PTA so they can program it accordingly for the year's activities. However, I think at a wealthier school that you are a new family at, you really should take the time to see how things are before making a bigger donation.

    Get in touch with the President of the PTA and ask them what they need or just write a check to the PTA. Schools in California are not well funded so I'm sure they will be grateful for any contribution. 

    Maybe you've started school by now and realized that the school itself (or, rather, the PTA) will not be shy about advising you on when and how to donate.  Our public school PTA had an annual fund drive, and we did the bulk of our giving through that.  But if you have a total amount in mind, do save some for the midyear fundraising events (auction, read/walk/etc-athons, raffles, fairs, and festivals) and teacher/classroom wishlists.  If it's a well-organized PTA, they'll be able to tell you if there are certain bigger-ticket items that could use a "patron," although they may prefer that people just give to the annual fund and then they can allocate as needed (and "they" can include you, if you choose to be active in the PTA).  Donations of technology items are challenging, because someone then has to service them, and you simply can't expect school district staff to know how to or to have the equipment to service every possible donated item. lets you donate directly to a classroom.Your childs teacher would have to post a wish list of items and then you can send them directly and get a tax write off.

    THANK YOU.   This is generous.  And, if you are looking for an alternative -- consider giving the requested donation (or maybe a bit more) to your well-funded elementary school, and then --- look around at other local schools who are not as fortunate.  MIddle schools and high schools are often starved for donations, as are other elementaries in lesser-income communities.

    Many schools have an annual auction -- you can participate in one (or many!) of those, and they often have 'targeted' programs that they are trying to fund.

    Finally -- go on DonorsChoose, and find a teacher/school that is truly in need.

    Just curious, if the school is already well funded, why not donate it to a school that is more in need?

    My kids are now in high school, and instead of spending money on private schools I want to invest what I can in our community.   I make a relatively generous donation to our school’s PTA at the beginning of the year.   PTAs are not able to put donations in a specific “bucket,” although there may be subtle ways that they can shuffle things around based on the budget.  I would talk to your PTA board and to the principal about how money can be allocated and what their priorities and needs are, keeping in mind that it’s not always as easy as you might think to spend money (e.g. a makerspace may be a great idea, and your money could fund lots of really cool tools and supplies, but these things require physical space as well as class time and teacher training to be workable and sustainable).  Donorschoose is one way to target your money – last year I met a teacher who wanted to introduce a specific technology program to our school but needed funding for training.  She set up a donorschoose project and I made a generous contribution, and also recruited others to chip in so it was fully-funded.  Also, it’s never too soon look towards middle and high school  … e.g. your local high school’s music  boosters may be raising money for new instruments – it’s possible is that those clarinets will still be around when your child is a freshman.  I also encourage you to make contributions that don’t necessarily appear to benefit your kid directly.  For example, we donate more to our citywide education foundation than we do to our local school, and we support donorschoose projects at other schools.   These things benefit all students in our district and help strengthen our community.    Also, a heads up that especially at the elementary level you may be hit up for money later in the year – e.g. if your school has an auction you may want to set aside some of your funds for that.  

    Having worked for over a decade in private school communications and fundraising, I would really encourage you to give an unrestricted gift. Making a match between a donor's intentions and a school's actual needs (including the cost of those needs) can be very time-intensive and sometimes headache-inducing. Most organizations prefer an unrestricted gift that they can allocate to their areas of greatest need. Classroom technology is great, for example, but maybe teacher training about how to effectively integrate technology into their everyday lessons might actually provide more benefit to the students. So it's always best to have a conversation about priorities before you make a restricted gift. If you're not sure the PTA's spending aligns with your priorities, then write a check to the school... and vice versa.

    If you're considering an in-kind donation, please check with the school to make sure it's something that they can actually use. Computers, tablets and software may not be compatible, and other items may or may not correspond to a school's needs. The school where I worked once received a used neti pot as an in-kind donation. Yes, really.

    I'm with your husband on this. Unexpected needs, projects, and opportunities will crop up for the school during the year and they will need to raise additional funds. I would give the suggested amount now so you have more to give when the PTA reserves are dwindling. 

    Our kids also go to a well-ranked and well-funded public school. We give money to the PTA and each of the kids' classrooms as well as to the science teachers and the library and the music teacher. In the past we've given money to the school itself for specific projects but right now they are trying to get enough money to buy a computer for each child in the school for classroom use and I think it is a terrible idea so we aren't donating to that.

    Schools can often get a better deal on <whatever> than you can so to me it makes more sense to give money unless you have a special "in" to get things cheaply. A friend of ours is a book distributor and donated $30,000 worth of books to the school library, but of course he didn't pay $30,000 for those books.

    I served on a PTA board and would add to the excellent comments here. While there is an assumption that the school is "well-funded," you might be surprised that much of that funding comes from the PTA. For instance, our school is seen as having deep pockets, but the PTA funds MANY things - enrichment teachers, programs, computer equipment, etc. - and if parents like you didn't donate every year those things would not be there.  

    Before you make a decision, you should take a look at the PTA operating budget (which they have to publish) and see where the money goes. Better yet, attend a PTA meeting and maybe you can talk to someone on the PTA about what their needs are. My guess is that no matter how much money they appear to have, they will need to continue to receive substantial donations every year just to keep the lights on.

    I would also agree with the person who talked about donating money to a specific classroom. Our school has a program to do that and it is very appreciated by the teachers!

    Targeted donations are a HUGE pain accounting-wise.

    As others have pointed out, if your school is well funded, it would be wonderful to donate to a school where the parents can't help. I worked at one of those and the discrepency is so crazy even within the same district.

    but if you're sticking to your school, please just give the check.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


I want to donate to an underserved school in Oakland or Richmond

Feb 2015

I've been inspired by all the HONY donations to Mott Bridges Academy, but would prefer to make a local donation. Can anyone recommend a school in Oakland or Richmond with an administration or PTA that's doing really great work? I'm sure just about any school meets this criteria but it'd be nice to have a little background rather than blindly writing a check. I am not talking huge sums - a few hundred dollars but I will likely continue donating each year. My kid also recently graduated and it makes sense to me to switch the dollars that were going to my very well served public school to one that is less so. Many thanks anon

I would humbly suggest Fairmont School (in El Cerrito, although its boundary includes more Richmond neighborhoods), part of the WCCUSD. Fairmont's kids are 2/3rds free and reduced lunch, high by many standards but not the WCCUSD's, thus we don't get the ''extra'' federal Title 1 money and other extra resources through the district, but our PTA does not have anywhere near the resources of the other elementary schools in El Cerrito/Kensington. The PTA is small but devoted, funding music education, PE, bonus science activities, and starting this year, environmental camp for 5th graders. Check us out! Thanks for your commitment to public education. Fairmont mom

Please consider Mira Vista School in Richmond for your small ongoing donation. Mira Vista is a K-8 school, so your donation would go to a local public school that is working hard to serve the needs of a wide range of students. We have a small, but hard working PTA that is doing amazing things with the limited resources we can muster. Due to our school population (50+% Free/Reduced Lunch), fundraising is a constant struggle so even a small donation of a few hundred dollars would be greatly appreciated and would be put to good use. Here are a few of our PTA funded programs that need financial support:
  • Art in the Classroom: The PTA pays for an onsite Art instructor to come once per month for students in grades K-3. Parent donations never cover the full cost of this program, but because we believe art is a critical part of a child's education, we have continued to fund it for the last 5 years.
  • STEM Club: Students from K through 8th grade study science, technology, engineering and math concepts at this after school club. It is entirely volunteer run (parents and a couple very hard working teachers who run this program on their own time) and provided to all students at no cost. This year we have over 50 students participating.
  • Glee Club: The PTA contracts with Oakland Youth Chorus to provide after school choir. This program is open to students in 1st through 8th grades and is partially funded through parent donations.
  • Pajama Party & Book Exchange: The Pajama Party is a free literacy event open to the entire school. Thousands of free books are available for students and their families to claim and take home. Parents, older students and teachers all gather to read bedtime stories to the younger students and encourage a love of reading. If you are interested in seeing the Mira Vista community in action, feel free to attend. The Pajama Party is happening this year on Thursday, February 26th from 6:00-8:00 pm.
  • School Gardens: Mira Vista has two working school gardens (one for the lower grades and one for the upper grades) and an Urban Agriculture elective for the upper grades. The gardens are a great opportunity for students to get out of the classroom and learn about ecology, agriculture and how to grow their own food. The gardens are maintained year round by parent volunteers.
  • The PTA also provides funding for field trips and classroom supplies and organizes community events like our Multi-Cultural Potluck.
  • The school Administration is also working hard to create a vibrant and positive school culture using Restorative Justice practices.

Having the additional support of individuals outside of our neighborhood would mean the world to all of us! Learn more about us at: Mira Vista Parent

Why not try Donors Choose? Tons of needing projects. Just type in the town or zip code and you are on your way. Thank you in advance!!!!

I hope you will consider Mira Vista K-8 School in Richmond for your donation. We are a gem of a school that hasn't received the same attention or resources as some of the other nearby schools, yet we are building a community of engaged students, committed parents, and dedicated faculty. Your donation would go to a local public school that is helping to bridge achievement gaps. We have an active PTA that is funding enrichment, including art, STEM club and gardens, but there is so much more that could be done with your support. We would like to be able to fund professional art instruction for more students, more often, for example. We are also in constant need of playground and PE equipment. Thank you for supporting the public schools! You can visit our website at: Victoria

I would recommend donating to Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), a public 6th - 12 grade school in the heart of the killing zone of Oakland at 66th and E 14th. Principal Amy Carozza is doing amazing things with her kids, and she has great integrity. Knows Oakland

What is a fair amount to contribute to public school?

April 1999

My daughter is currently attending a public elementary school in Oakland. The other day she came home with a survey from the parent-faculty club asking for parental input regarding budgeting issues. There was a list of about 15 different programs currently funded with PFC money. But due to an expected shortfall of $35,000 for next year, parents were asked to prioritize the programs and make recommendations for cuts. In order to fund all the seemingly worthwhile programs (e.g., music, art, motor, etc.) each family would need to contribute $315 per child per year rather than the $195 now set as the upper limit.

To me it would seem totally reasonable to ask people to pay $315 a year as it would only be about $30-40 a month. Compared to private school tuition or even what I paid for preschool, this is nothing! I would like to hear from other parents what their schools set as a suggested family donation. How much money do people think is a fair amount? What ideas do people have for encouraging families to pay the full amount? I know we all pay taxes and it would be wonderful if schools actually provided all the essentials that are currently considered options. But that's not the case. Given the state of public education in California, what do others think?

I struggle with this issue since there is a wide variance on how much an individual family can *afford* to donate to the schools. $35 a month isn't much to me, but to a single working mom, it may be a *huge* amount. And I wouldn't want anyone to feel badly because they can't contribute. I see why the fundraising is done the way it is done (selling stuff, getting contributions for walkathons etc) although it can be annoying. I am frustrated that the public schools, particularly in Oakland, have so few resources to go around. What is this not having PE or Music, or Art? I can't imagine grammar school without these kinds of classes being available routinely.

The elementary school my children attend asks for annual donations but does not specify or demand a fixed dollar amount. Some years they have suggested $100 per family. They do other fund raising during the year focused around events (i.e. carnivals, auctions, candy sales and garage sales) and these activities generate more money than does the direct appeal. The teachers also request that parents buy materials for their children to be used in the classroom (pens, pencils, crayons and glue) and make additional wish list requests as well. As a single mother and sole supporter of my family, I personally have found it diffiuclt or impossible some years to even donate $100. While I agree in theory that $300 isn't too much to ask for in terms of paying for an education, I think that in reality $300+ per year is a lot to expect from all parents.

We are also in the Oakland School district, but our parent-teacher group does most of its fund-raising with school activities, like the walkathon, which is really successful. I remember one letter asking for a donation, but it was so low-key, I can't imagine a lot of people giving more than $50, and nobody was asked to prioritize for the budget. If I'm wrong about this, can a Peralta parent please correct me? (I do remember the Oakland school district management sending out a letter asking for parent input (to a sample of parents) about budget priorities, and honestly I thought it wasn't fair, because I very well might have answered it differently if I had more information about the issues. But getting the information would have been a major undertaking, and I couldn't take it on.)