Bake Sales and Tesla Raffles: The Unequal World of PTA Wealth

In 2013, families came in at a Seattle high school more than $ 100,000 through a raffle to win a Tesla Model S.

The previous year, the Garfield High Parents-Teachers Association acquitted $ 40,000 in raffle tickets for a Nissan Leaf. Other schools in this tech booming city rely on lavish galas to raise up to $ 422,000 in a single night, and some spend almost as much as they move in.

During the pandemic, parents at John Stanford International School did $ 249,999 spent– one dollar less than the school district allows before the board reviews these expenses – for teaching assistants for a dual language program. That year, the Green Lake Parent Teacher Association paid about half to cover the cost of the elementary school singing teacher and part of the salary of a full-time counselor, including the students.

Meanwhile, the parents of the Rising Star Elementary celebrate in the city’s South End, when they can cobble together as much as $ 300.

“It’s in a good year,” said Leticia Bazemore, former PTA vice president at Rising Star.

over three out of four students at Rising Star come from low-income households. Parents often cannot afford to pay membership dues for the PTA – let alone write high checks at their fundraising drives. Instead, it is often up to the likes of Bazemore, fellow PTA board members, and school staff to donate their own money to cover membership fees, buy lunches during teacher recognition week, or help families buy tickets to special events.

“We paid out of pocket for the smallest things – movie night, fifth grade graduation,” said Bazemore, a special education teacher. “Everyone wanted to please the children. We can’t always afford it. ”

The appalling inequality in how much parent groups can raise for their neighborhood schools persists across the country. And debates about how – and if – these gaps can be closed have made headlines from coast to coast, by Malibu and Santa Monica in California too New York City. Some have called the whole issue a distraction from the real problem: a lack of adequate state and federal funding.


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