Parents asked to make up schools' budget shortfall


When I was pregnant with my first child, we bought a house in our old high school's neighborhood, so I already know what I'm in for: a life of raising money for the school, which has long used the parent groups to fund programs the district wouldn't. I also already know many of the ways my money will be used, as I've been involved on the receiving end too; as a volunteer track coach, my "salary" was paid out of booster club funds. The district's budget would only pay for two assistants if fewer than 50 athletes took the field, and it's difficult to coach a dozen different events with only three staffers. The booster club paid me a stipend to help out with the high jump and hurdles, events that really require a specialized approach.

Recession Watch Around the Globe

In a Wall Street Journal article today, proof that my local high school is not alone in asking parents to pony up to help out with budgetary restrictions and falling school incomes. And they're going deeper than craft supplies, uniforms and high jump coaches and paying for school staples, such as school books, dictionaries, and teachers' assistant pay. Naturally, critics worry this creates inequities (and this is a huge discussion point in my city); students at schools with involved, upper-income parents end up getting far richer classroom experiences than those with lower-income parents and those whose commitments prevent them from becoming involved.

It's nowhere more clear than at my oldest son's school for children whose behavioral and learning issues require that they be isolate from the general education population. Most of the parents are so exhausted from parenting a special-needs child that they don't have the bandwidth to even join the PTA, let alone spend a lot of effort raising funds for the school. So the kindergarten teachers' longing to start a school garden -- a project that would require major parent fundraising to (ahem) get off the ground -- is all dream unless I somehow manage to find the time and passion for the program.

Have you been asked to provide funds for something you think should be part of the school's budget as a matter of course? Have revenue shortfalls made unusual holes in your school's programs? Do you see inequities in your district's parent groups? It's a big problem that, in a recession, can only be getting bigger.