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Schools Can’t Thrive on ‘Pass the Hat’

By Kevin Hart

In the battle to save public schools from crippling budget cuts, parent groups have emerged as true heroes. Even though they are already feeling the pinch of the recession, parents across the country are digging into their own pockets to save public school jobs and programs – and states and school districts seem content to let them do it.

But some education authorities question whether a reliance on “pass the hat” is only going to increase the achievement gap between wealthy and poor districts, and will ultimately become an excuse to under-fund schools.

A recent Associated Press article published by media outlets coast to coast focused on how parent activism is helping to shore up sagging public school budgets. Parents on San Juan Island in Washington, for example, raised more than half a million dollars to save teaching positions, a science program, and a program for struggling elementary students; in Thousand Oaks, Calif., parents are implementing an electronics recycling initiative they hope will provide a revenue boost for local schools.

But experts like National Education Association Director of Collective Bargaining Bill Raabe told the Associated Press that the good will of parents can’t be an excuse for states to neglect their responsibility to adequately fund public education.

“It is commendable that parents are so dedicated to quality education for every student that they raise money to pay for teachers and other necessary resources,” Raabe said in the article. “Yet it is deplorable that any group has to raise money to fund basic resources we know students need to succeed.”

Raabe’s sentiments were echoed by other education experts, including a representative from the national Parent-Teacher Association, who cautioned that schools and states can become dependent on money raised by parents.

Parent-driven funding could also have implications for the achievement gap between wealthy and lower-income students. Parents in poorer districts may lack the resources to save programs that would otherwise be axed by budget cuts.

The end result – students in wealthier districts have access to more educational opportunities at a time when national education policy should be focused on providing a quality public education for all students.

The solution, according to Raabe and others, is simple: State and federal policymakers need to make equitable education funding a priority, even during this economic downturn.




NEA School Funding Resource Center