Find out how much your school’s PTA raises (or doesn’t)

Rear view of disable schoolgirl raising hand in classroom of elementary school. (File/Getty Images)

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Reema Amin, Amy Zimmer on December 2, 2019

A tiny portion of New York City parent-teacher associations reported raising more than $1,000 per student — amounting, in some cases, to more than $1 million — while hundreds of other such school groups said they raised no money at all. 

The data, released for the first time Monday, lays bare the funding disparities between schools in wealthy neighborhoods and those in higher poverty ZIP codes. It does not include data for charter schools, alternative schools, and pre-K centers because these schools are not required to have parent associations, an education department spokesperson said. 

Meanwhile, about a quarter of these schools reported raising no money at all — a finding that is a “cause for alarm,” said Councilman Mark Treyger, who sponsored the bill that now requires the city to aggregate and release fundraising data.

I think this data is a starting point in a call for much further action to address very glaring and alarming inequities in our school system,” said Treyger, who has previously called for the education department to provide parent associations with baseline funding to help level the playing field.

The data released Monday included some caveats. The figures were unaudited and appear to contain some inaccuracies. Officials are looking for more precise ways of reporting fundraising numbers, and are considering offering financial training to parent organizations, a department spokesperson said. (Roughly 240 schools failed to submit any data to the education department.)

A handful of schools posted numbers that appeared to be wildly off-base, including $76 million in reported income for the parent-teacher organization at P.S. 133 in Boerum Hill. The numbers are self-reported by PTAs and PAs, and officials asked schools to confirm the numbers that they received. The education department said P.S. 133 confirmed the figures, but in an email, PTA co-president Jennifer Skoda told Chalkbeat there was likely a clerical error because they reported raising a number two decimal points to the left, or about $760,000. In 2016-2017, the organization reported nearly $612,000 in revenue.

> SEE: How much did your school’s PTA bring in last year?

Still, the numbers offer a window into how parent organizations at schools across the city raise vastly different amounts. Money raised by parent organizations cannot be used to pay for teachers but can pay for supplemental staff, such as teaching assistants and art teachers. They can collect fees for programs that parents pay for directly, and can also cover expenses for after-school programs and other services that a school’s principal can’t or won’t budget for. That can enable schools with wealthier PTAs to pay for extra enrichment that its less-resourced counterparts cannot.

In a statement accompanying the release of the data, Chancellor Richard Carranza said that while he supports the contributions parent associations make to schools, “in some instances, and without clear intent, these systems can also perpetuate or exacerbate disparities in opportunities for students.”

Officials are also looking for ways parent associations can partner between schools and how the city can encourage these groups to meet with each other “and share best practices,” an education department spokesperson said.

“While we respect the autonomy of these associations and value the support of parent and community partnership, we recognize the need to increase transparency and foster greater collaboration between parent leaders,” Carranza said. “We will continue to partner with parent leaders in order to generate innovative solutions to the challenges and opportunities before us.”

Treyger said that “the DOE needs to get its act together in terms of accurate recordkeeping and needs to be more proactive with school communities” to ensure their parent organizations are active, but that the report largely confirmed vast fundraising disparities between schools in affluent neighborhoods and those serving high-poverty communities.

At the Upper West Side’s P.S. 87, for instance, the PTA raised roughly $2.1 million, or about $2,320 per student; the Upper East Side’s P.S. 158 raised about $1.5 million, or $1,840 per student; and Carroll Gardens’ P.S. 58 PTA raised about $2.1 million, or $2,085 per student. (These schools were among the 2% of New York City PTAs that reported raising S1,000 or more per student.)

By contrast, P.S. 194 in Manhattanville raised $391, or about $2 per student. Other schools reported numbers that were even lower — less than $5 in total at some campuses.

“We’re trying to understand, what is being funded at a school by PTAs? What is being funded by the budget? When you have low enrollment, how does it impact this?” said Sharmilee L. Ramudit, a parent in Manhattan’s District 3 who sits on the Community Education Council’s Equity Committee, in an interview with Chalkbeat last week. She is one of several parents in the district, which spans the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem, who plan to use this data to begin addressing fundraising disparities among schools. 

Some argue that schools with high shares of low-income students should actually be doing fine since they get extra city and state funding, and receive federal Title 1 funds for services, such as academic support for high-needs students and parent and community engagement. For example, P.S. 194 — the school that raised less than $400 last year — had more than $28,000 per student in its budget. P.S. 58, one of the schools that raised more than $2 million, spent just under $18,000 per student, according to data available through Education-Trust New York, an education and civil rights advocacy group, which argues schools with greater needs should receive more funding. 

Those additional funds exist to help schools that are grappling with the pronounced demands of high-needs students, said David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy a the CUNY Grad Center and Brooklyn College. 

“So the idea that somehow you’re going to keep [Title 1 schools] in the same place while you increase funding to other schools — to equalize that funding is antithetical to the idea that these schools have greater need,” Bloomfield said. 

In a quick analysis of its own, Ed-Trust New York found that the schools serving the smallest share of low-income students are able to raise and spend more than other schools.

The issue is not that some schools deserve less; it’s that our education system is responsible for providing every school with the resources to provide a high-quality education, including ensuring that the students with the greatest needs have the additional resources that are necessary for their success,” Ian Rosenblum, executive director of Ed-Trust New York, said in a statement.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Alex Mitchell