Decades of state and district policies have aimed to make resource distribution more equitable at K–12 public schools, but spending by school-specific fundraising groups can counter these efforts.
Parent teacher associations (PTAs), parent teacher organizations, and “friends of” groups have increased in size and number over the past three decades and spending by these organizations disproportionately goes to wealthier and whiter schools. In a typical district, some schools receive no extra dollars while others get additional funding of more than $50,000 from supplemental fundraising—enough for additional field trips, grants for teachers to purchase supplies, and staff-appreciation gifts. By better documenting spending by these groups, this hidden source of inequity could be factored into funding policies and allocation decisions.
This analysis focuses on Illinois, but patterns and policy lessons can translate across states and settings.
- In Illinois, nearly 600 school-specific fundraising organizations spend on average $107.12 per student a year.
- The 25 percent of organizations that spend the most spend an average of $266.93 a year.
- Spending by these organizations represents on average an extra 3 percent on top of allocated state and local nonpersonnel discretionary funds.
- More half (58 percent) of school-specific fundraising groups are associated with schools serving the wealthiest 25 percent of students.
- Even within districts, there are inequities in where funds flow. Schools serving a relatively higher proportion of white students have organizations that spend more.
School-specific fundraising organizations provide highly impactful discretionary dollars to the schools they support. Funds from these groups are spent on everything from basic supplies and textbooks to extracurricular enrichment and yearbooks and can provide schools some budget flexibility. There are stark inequities in terms of which schools have fundraising groups and how much those groups spend. The impact of school-specific fundraising has been demonstrated during the pandemic: over the past year in Chicago, some wealthier-serving schools have had earlier and easier access to cleaning supplies, enabling them to reopen more safely thanks to fundraising by their PTA groups.
The inequities in spending by these fundraising organizations across schools in Illinois should concern state- and district-level leaders who specifically design policies to combat inequities in resource distribution but whose policies do not explicitly account for these supplemental funds. Policymakers and researchers could mitigate potential inequities if there were better documentation of the spending by these fundraising groups. Opportunities include pooling and redistributing PTA funds across schools in a district and taking fundraising into account when districts and states apply funding formulas to determine how to distribute federal, state, and local revenues across schools. Without adjusting funding formulas to account for revenue from fundraising, this supplemental flow of resources will perpetuate deeply entrenched inequities in resources and opportunities.
Get the Data
- School Funding: Do Poor Kids Get Their Fair Share?
- The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits
- Hidden Money: The Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance
- Professionalizing the PTO: Race, Class, and Shifting Norms of Parental Engagement in a City Public School
- Funding Gaps: An Analysis of School Funding Equity Across the U.S. and within Each State
- Civil Society Goes to School: Parent-Teacher Associations and the Equality of Educational Opportunity
- In Chicago, parent fundraising eases reopening at some schools — and leaves others out
- How Marginalized Families Are Pushed Out of PTAs
- PA/PTA Fundraising Report
- PTA Equity Project