Why Annual Giving for Public Schools is the Worst!

Living in California, we have a long list of statewide disasters...We grapple with earthquakes, mudslides, forest fires, and drought. But the list doesn’t stop with just natural forces wreaking havoc. We’re also blessed with bankrupt cities, low rankings in public education...and school fundraising to make up for it.

Now whether annual giving is a nationwide epidemic or fundraising for public education is a privilege for our state, one thing I can tell you for sure is that I hate it. No, it’s not the issue of forking over $1,125 per child….oh, wait, it’s gone up this year….Here are my top three reasons why annual giving is the worst:

#1. The Slogan

When annual giving comes around, there’s this slogan, spoken like a mantra through the halls: A public education is free, an enriched one is not. Excuse me but WTF?

Firstly, public education is not free. It’s something we pay for – in what is called taxes. We pay for it in good faith. So do our parents, our neighbors, and even the old man down the street who looks like he doesn’t have a single friend in the world. The cat lady pays for it, the fireman pays for it, the immigrant, the entrepreneur – we take a piece of our earnings and hand it over in an imposed agreement, part of which is meant for education. So to tell me public school is free is complete and utter BS.

On top of that, whichever marketing genius, pretending to be a public education representative, decided that PE, art, music, and science aren’t part of a core education is not MY public school rep! Nor should that person be yours. So then, what is an education – drill sheets and spelling tests? Is that the contract you signed up for when you handed over your taxes?

We acknowledge that obesity is a problem...but cut PE. We realize that we’re importing scientific thought leaders faster than we’re making them . . . but no, no scientific discoveries in the classroom for your kiddo – that’s not part of the contract. We note that other countries are innovating faster than we are, and we pay big bucks for people with good ideas. But no creative thinking for your child – there’s no art or music in the program for inspiration. You get drill sheets and spelling tests instead.

#2. The Dinner

At our school, annual giving isn’t just handing over your check. It’s an event. We attend a potluck dinner at a parent’s house and then, we hand over our checks.

Of course, it’s wonderful to gather together with the other parents from the school for a social event. But with the dinner comes THE SPEECH. And within this speech, we pat ourselves on the back. We congratulate ourselves for raising enough money to be able to pay a PE teacher twice a week. We thank our lucky stars that we have science once a week, art every other week, and music here and there.

I don’t deny it; it is a major feat to be able to raise that much money to benefit our kids. I’m in awe of all the mothers who work so hard to make this happen at our school. I am truly thankful to everyone who does give money so that our children could have some sort of education. But while I do give major, major props to everyone, I can’t help but think about the other neighborhoods that can’t raise that much money. Don’t they deserve a scientific discovery or two? Can’t they be inspired by music, or make a painting, or find something to make them love learning – because drill sheets and spelling tests aren’t going to do that.

And I can’t help but hate this short term Band-Aid where parents make up for the shortfalls in the education program. And I can’t help but wonder if all this effort wouldn’t be better served demanding a real solution from the public education departments for everyone throughout the city and state.

To make matters worse, the dinner host is made to tell us that through this fundraiser, through all the money we raise, we’re actually providing our kids with a “private school education at a fraction of the cost.” They go on to list tuition rates for various schools. The one down the street is $20,000, another one is $28,000, and there’s even one that’s $35,000! And it’s all a load of BS!

We are NOT getting a private school education. We do NOT have the same facilities. We do NOT have the same well-paid teachers. We also don’t have some of the cons that go along with private schools. But that’s all fine. We didn’t register for a private school. That’s not the problem. The problem is re-labeling a solid education as a private school one – as something that you shouldn’t expect from a public school.

You should never be made to feel that having PE, art, music, and science as part of your children’s public school education means that they’re getting an “enriched” experience or “a private school” equivalent. You should expect it as status quo.

#3. The Fix

Most of all what really makes me irate about this annual giving campaign is that it is absolutely not a fix. The fact is, at our school, none of the parents will ever worry about whether their kids will go to college...the question instead is which one. Annual giving helps us give our kids a nicer education but it only helps a tiny portion of the population.

I’m not a mother who’s looking for a fractional bit of competitive advantage for my children. I’m not worried about their academic future. They will go to university one day. They will find a career. But enriching their lives is more about enriching their world, not limiting it. I want them to be able to hang out with kids from other neighborhoods and be able to connect. I want other children to have the opportunity to be inspired by the variety of ideas in my child’s curriculum as well. I want the public school system to do its job – to teach, inspire, and feed the curiosity of every little child.

You could call me an idealist...but I would beg to differ. In my opinion, a well-rounded public school education for everyone is absolutely not an ideal. It’s simply a requirement.

What are your thoughts about fundraising at public schools? Do you have an annual giving campaign?

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