NEPC Review: Hidden Money: The Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance (Center for American Progress, April 2017)
While inequalities in school funding resulting from state and local policies have long been a source of concern to education researchers and policymakers, a report from the Center for American Progress examines a source of educational inequality that receives less attention: private fundraising by parents. It focuses on the 50 Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) that raised the most money in 2013-2014, with two main findings. First, the PTAs raising large amounts were located in schools and districts with low rates of student poverty. Second, while a PTA in a high-poverty community may raise only a few hundred dollars, PTAs in this sample raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Using case studies, the report considers district regulation of private fundraising. This review concludes that the report’s findings about the scope and beneficiaries of private fundraising are credible and important—showing the impact successful PTAs can have. However, the focus on a small number of schools and districts, a lack of attention to school and community context, and problems with the case study design limit the report’s overall relevance. In addition, it is important to note that most funding inequalities arise at the state level; funds raised by parents represent only a minute portion of overall school spending. Nevertheless, the report’s recommendations, especially in support of equity grants, will be useful to district-level policymakers.