Per-Family Payments to Public School

Archived Responses: 

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.)