You have probably seen the following on a bumper sticker: "It Will Be a Great Day When Our Schools Get all the Money They Need and the Air Force Has to Hold a Bake Sale to Buy a Bomber." (For information on the origins of this sentence, see here.) I don't see it as much as I once did; I'd like to think it's less common because it is such a fatuous sentiment that people see through it, but it is probably just the fact that it is too long to be really catchy, like "Make love, not war" or "Yes, We Can" (which are equally fatuous, but far more popular).
But I don't want to focus on the military side of the slogan; instead, I want to ask about the school side. Because the fact is that I am inundated with school fundraisers, and I'm really tired of them. My question is, just how much money does my children's school need, and why can't they get adequate funding through taxes? I realize that there is always a tension between government budgets and school needs; every part of the government, like every part of a corporation, wants more money than it gets. And I can understand that schools want to make up some of that difference by holding fundraisers. But schools today seem to be running permanent fundraisers, like politicians who never cease raising money for their next run for office, and I have to wonder just how serious their need for money is.
Our elementary school has participated in a major fundraiser for the last two years called the Boosterthon. It involves kids getting running laps, and getting pledges for each lap that they run. It promotes health, character, and all sorts of other good things, and it raised $18,000 this year for the school. I don't have too much to complain about it, except for the cult-like way it tries to get kids excited about raising money. As with other fundraising activities nowadays, there are prizes for kids who reach certain plateaux, so my kids came home excited about the wonderful prizes they could earn, and I don't really appreciate the way it has been sold to them.
One would think you could buy a lot of school supplies for $18,000, but the fundraising doesn't stop there. Almost every week, the school has an arrangement with some local restaurant in which a certain amount of proceeds from families that dine there goes to the school. They not only remind kids of this in school, but send them home with a sticker on their shirts so they won't forget. Naturally, kids get excited about the prospect of eating out, and parents are put in the position of taking them to the restaurant or disappointing expectations that have been built up in school.
That's not all. The school also sends home some postcards for magazine subscriptions that kids are supposed to send to relatives; there is a whole catalogue of school spirit-wear; t-shirts for field day; school pictures twice a year; at least two festivals per year where kids can pay to play games; the school sells lollipops (nutritious ones, of course) before school, and has a sale around Christmas time with small gifts kids can buy for family members. And on and on and on. The demands for money are virtually endless.
When I was growing up, I don't remember having any school fundraisers. I do remember selling lottery tickets for my baseball team, which brings up another point. My mom sold some tickets at work, but I also went door-to-door selling them in my neighbourhood. Nowadays, schools specifically tell students not to go door-to-door; it is completely up to the parents to sell them. While I'm just as happy not to have my kid selling things door-to-door, it isn't much of an improvement to have the responsibility pushed onto me.
What is all this money used for? The only references I can find in the school council minutes say they are for "school supplies." I remember one fundraiser in particular that mentioned the money was being used for a lunch for award-winning teachers. Otherwise, I can only guess. How much worse would our kids' education be if the school did not have this extra money? I don't know, but I would certainly like a chance to judge for myself whether the investment is worth it. Fundraising is like the school's underground economy: there is no accountability for the funds, and the pressure to donate comes through kids rather than direct appeals to parents. As a result, schools can soak up large amounts of extra money without anyone having any idea how benefician it is.
If the school really needs that extra money, I'm all for raising taxes to pay for it. If the biggest fundraiser of the year brings in $18,000, the amount of extra taxes would be minimal. Or, if the government can't or won't come up with the funds, the schools could send out a letter to all parents (or even all school-district residents) to explain their needs and to request additional funds. If they can't get the money through such a direct appeal, they should not be allowed to solicit funds by playing on parents' (and their relatives') guilt feelings.