I saw parents take a starring role in school musical. How do schools get more parents front and center?

While volunteering at my local high school’s musical, I saw how much parents can make a difference in last-minute challenges.

A new report reveals how PTAs in the nation’s most affluent school districts provide funding that enables schools to enrich students with butterfly gardens, rooftop greenhouses and observatories.

The analysis, “Hidden Money: The Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance,” by the Center for American Progress found the wealthiest 50 PTAs in the country raise $43 million in unrestricted funds, which researchers see as “a small, but growing contributor to funding inequity.” (No Georgia PTA was among the 50.)

While government funding of schools is relatively equal, CAP says the scales tip when you count what parents contribute:

When considering federal, state, and local spending, nationwide, the highest-poverty districts spend about the same amount—only 2 percent less per student—as the most affluent districts. In the majority of states, per-pupil spending in high-poverty districts is about equal or more than per-pupil spending in affluent districts. But as CAP’s analysis shows, when private dollars are taken into account, it is clear that the education finance system benefits the wealthy. In 2013-14, the nation’s 50 richest raised nearly $43 million, an average of $867 for each student enrolled in those schools. These schools serve about one-tenth of a percent of the nationwide student population while raising around 10 percent of the estimated total $425 million raised by all PTAs in the country.

CAP suggests several ways to even the playing field, including collaborations where wealthy PTAs share their bounty with less affluent schools, a pooling of a portion of PTA monies and the use of equity funds. CAP says the assistance of parents in financing field trips, art, music instruction, new computers, after-school programs, supplies, clubs, and sports is often not transparent.

However, even if wealthy PTAs spread their abundance to other schools, there’d still be inequities in the extras kids receive in affluent districts. The benefits of affluent and well-educated parents go beyond successful fundraising. There’s also the hard-to-quantity but very real asset of parent capital and capacity to problem-solve and mount rescue missions when called upon.

I saw that up close when I volunteered during the final week of rehearsals for my daughter’s high school musical in Decatur. Two things amazed me: How much progress is made in those last days — all credit to the chorus and drama teachers — and how many eleventh hour saves are required to stage ambitious productions.

And that’s where I saw parent capacity come into play.

Most of the last-minute madness was around costume alterations and changes. Without hesitation, parents dashed to get masking tape, capes or ribbon. I heard wives call husbands en route home from the office to divert them to Home Depot for wire or to Target for men’s black socks. I witnessed parents apply their project management expertise to tickets, concession stands and uncooperative props. Volunteers arrived bearing glue guns, sewing machines and snacks for the hungry cast.

When online ticket sale snafus occurred, parents who were computer wizards leapt in and resolved problems quickly. I marveled over the organization, cheeriness and panache of the woman in charge of what theater folks call “the front of the house.” Turns out she worked for Disney for 10 years where good-natured and flawless efficiency has been elevated to an art form.

When my oldest started kindergarten 23 years ago, my husband and I volunteered to organize Science Fridays in which parent volunteers would come for an hour to lead experiment with the kids. My daughter’s teacher felt the kindergarten curriculum needed hands-on science. My husband and I weren’t science mavens, but we had a lot of parents who worked at universities or the CDC.  And so the kids were treated to a rich sampling of science.

Back then, Decatur was more economically diverse. There were parents who worked jobs that didn’t permit them to take off a few hours on Friday to teach kindergarteners how to read tree rings or make their own rock candy. So, the parents with greater flexibility —  managers or tenured professors —  pulled double and triple duty that year.

Students benefit when parents can jump in and eliminate obstacles to meaningful events or step forward to create learning opportunities outside the regular classroom. All parents want to do that for their children, but rigid job schedules, pressing family demands and limited resources prevent some from doing so.

I am not sure how you equalize parent effort or expertise, but I can tell you it matters.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
Hardendorf
Hardendorf

By the same standard higher income communities contribute more to the arts and to public park conservancies.  If limits were put on contributions going to local community services were created contributions would dry up.  If such equality was created  would it be district wide or state wide? Why not make it nation wide? One of the reason for support is that parents can see their gifts of time or money in action. In addition the support is not going(as in the stage production you mentioned) to essential school services but to an extra curricular activity.  Also isn't this what Title 1 funding addresses?


JaninAtlanta
JaninAtlanta

I've seen the phenomenon called "human" (rather than social) capital. One hypothesis is that improving education will increase inequality, since students with the human capital to use it will advance disproportionately. 


Sharing the financial contributions from wealthy parents might have unintended consequences. Their motivation to contribute could be affected, or they could simply opt out of public ed.


Best option seems to be integration. I'm thinking about class not race here. Then all will benefit. When the best students are removed all will suffer.


I'm a product of the Decatur public schools in the '50s and early '60s, and my children of the DeKalb schools in the'90s. DHS and DHHS. 👍

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries. 


Winston Churchill


Astropig
Astropig

CAP suggests several ways to "even the playing field", including" collaborations" where wealthy PTAs "share" their "bounty" with less affluent schools, a "pooling" of a portion of PTA monies and the use of "equity" funds."


There. Fixed it. This is the way it should read.

Babycat
Babycat

Parental involvement comes in many forms and I agree that it is hard for a single parent to physically contribute but I have seen them contribute in other ways that are not necessarily all that visible.  Those that can lend a hand usually do and all the students benefit.  No one is keeping count that I know of.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared


"funding inequity"....


Merriam-Webster's definition of inequity:


1 injustice, unfairness

2 an instance of injustice or unfairness



So, when concerned parents contribute EXTRA money to their children's schools to provide additional resources, it doesn't just cause a "funding differential" or a "funding disparity", it CREATES INJUSTICE.


What a load of, well you know. You want to measure justice by equality of resources?  I understand Cuba still has a Castro in charge.  Except for an infinitesimally small number of elites, North Korea is a bastion of, as defined above, "equity".


Jane Childs Carr
Jane Childs Carr

Agreed, involved parents can make a huge difference. My husband, when he saw this production of Beauty and the Beast, marveled at the professional feel. Thanks to all the unsung hero parents who helped make it happen. (And Becca was wonderful!)

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

Thanks. I was amazed at the costume efforts and creativity and all the volunteers -- some of whom did not have kids in the schools or in the production -- who showed up with their sewing machines to hem, take in and let out outfits. There is also a cadre of younger parents with amazing managerial abilities. Impressive to see them at work.

Aaron Garland
Aaron Garland

Some active parents can be parents to the unparented....which is extremely valuable.

Katrina Bishop
Katrina Bishop

That's becoming increasingly harder. As a society, we don't seem to want others addressing our kids-- for whatever reason.

Jill Keirsey Waldon
Jill Keirsey Waldon

Many a night...many a last minute project ..,many a trip driving groups of Collins Hill HS theater students to regional events..volunteering at State Thescon thespian convention at Columbus State Univ..many priduction nite photography session.... many a fun night of getting a chance to participate in my, ( now college grad/Atlanta regional theater) geek's life.....many a fond memory! Priceless.......

1776 Nation
1776 Nation

Schools with a large percentage of single-parent families are obviously at a disadvantage, and in more important ways than those cited.

But the situation can't or won't be discussed.

taylor48
taylor48

@1776 Nation Absolutely, because those parents are sometimes working two and three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Which is why it's ridiculous to label a school and teachers as "failing."  I guarantee you that the teachers who teach at schools with 98% poverty are no worse than the teachers who teach at Decatur.  Oftentimes, they're better because they get more out of the kids than teachers at wealthy schools do.