Millionaire PTAs: Not your mother's school bake sale

Public school PTAs around the country are raising millions of dollars a year, money these PTAs say helps fill the funding gap left by the government. But, opponents say this makes the country’s public school system inequitable, and school districts should find ways to distribute the funds so they benefit more children.

PTA fundraising is going far beyond regular bake sales. Nowadays, PTAs offer gala nights with silent auctions, carnivals with pony rides and bouncy castles among other attractions.

Also, PTAs are pushing parents to make big donations: Parents who give large sums can have their names displayed as badges that telegraph just how much they care about their child’s education.

The PTAs say the money helps fill funding gaps left by state governments and allows schools to offer amenities to students such as teacher assistants, lunch monitors, field trips and after-school activities.

The trend in high-dollar PTA fundraising has been underway for years. According to the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP), nationally, PTA revenues have almost tripled since the mid-1990s, reaching over $425 million in 2010, and over the last eight years the amounts raised have most likely continued to increase.

The CAP noted that in the 2013-14 academic year, the 50 richest PTAs raised nearly $43 million, an average of $867 for each student enrolled in those schools.

The school whose PTA raised the most -- overall -- in the 2013-2014 school year was Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Texas, a wealthy Dallas suburb. That school’s PTA raised $2,002,222 in total funds, which translates into a per-student amount of $1,747.

The school whose PTA raised the most – on a per-student basis -- in the 2013-14 school year was Glorietta Elementary School in Orinda, California, an upscale community just east of Berkeley. That school’s Glorietta Parents’ Club (GPC) raised $1,084,094 in total funds, which translates to a per-student amount of $2,629.

On its page, the GPC states, “Glorietta prides itself on a long tradition of excellence in education. Unfortunately, the funding our students receive from the State of California is not sufficient to sustain the high level of education and opportunity that parents expect of Glorietta.”

The GPC recommends parents donate $950 per student per year for the 2018-2019 school year. The PTA also recommend a $650 per year donation to the Educational Foundation of Orinda, which supports educational and enrichment programs for all students in Orinda’s public schools.

According to GPC, in 2013 the Local Control Funding Formula was implemented, created to fix California’s “broken and inequitable” finding system. The law apparently redistributed funding towards high-needs students. Districts now receive a base funding amount per student. Schools can receive supplemental funding for "targeted students" (English learners, low-wealth and foster youth). Districts receive an additional 20 percent to 70 percent of base funding for each targeted student and in Glorietta’s district, supplemental funding is given for only 1 percent of students.

Glorietta Elementary students perform above average on state tests and make above-average year-over-year academic improvement, according to Great Schools.

According to a US News and World Report, 98 percent of Highland Park High School students were proficient in math while 97 percent were proficient in reading. US News and World Report rated the school a “gold medal” based on test performance and how well the school prepared students for college.

Critics say the PTAs bringing in the most money are in wealthy areas, giving these students an unfair advantage over less-privileged youth.

“Parent donations only further the current funding inequities at the district and school levels,” the CAP said. “They have a few recommendations to change this."

According to The U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for Orinda residents was $178,404 a year in 2016 and the average and in Highland Park the average household income was $189,485.

The CAP uses the number of students in schools getting subsidized lunches as a proxy for wealth. No students at either Highland Park or Glorietta Elementary receive subsidized lunches.

While using the number of students receiving subsidized lunches can serve as a proxy for wealth, it doesn’t always indicate a PTA’s ability to raise money. For example, Public School 261 Philip Livingston in New York City raised over $723,000 in the 2013-2014 school year and yet 43 percent of the students received subsidized lunches.

Further, 32 percent of the schools in the top 50 had 10 percent or more of their students on subsidized lunches.

The CAP believes that district leaders must take action to address funding disparities and ensure that the nation’s low-income students, who are disproportionately children of color, have access to all the resources they need to succeed.

“Action is needed at the state and district levels,” according to the CAP, and “state leaders should promote greater transparency of private contributions, and district leaders should create systems to allocate all resources equitably.”

The CAP did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment by the time of publication.