Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Report Reveals Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Report Reveals Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that the wealthiest 50 PTAs in the country raise $43 million in unrestricted funds, a small, but growing contributor to funding inequity. The report highlights pairs of demographically similar districts—one that put in place policies aimed at leveraging these resources to a broader benefit and one that did not—and found no negative impact on parent giving when these policies were in place.

As a result, the report highlights proactive solutions—including transparency measures, partnership building among schools across the socioeconomic spectrum, and the use of equity funds—for districts to harness the power of parent fundraising and think creatively about how best to support all schools. CAP’s report was also featured in this Sunday’s The New York Times.

Because districts and schools do not readily report the use of private contributions, parent fundraising dollars are not included as part of national, state, district, and school funding comparisons. This masks millions of dollars that create funding discrepancies that could otherwise pay for programming such as field trips, art, music instruction, new computers, after-school programs, supplies, clubs, and sports.

“Districts should be creative and proactive when considering how parent fundraising can help tackle inequalities across districts and broaden overall student experience. The top 1 percent of PTAs are adding millions to wealthy schools’ budgets, while poverty schools have to dip into their own coffers to pay for better programming—if they can afford them all,” said Catherine Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at CAP.  

Enacting smart reforms such as transparency, equitable allocation of funding, and partnerships from schools of all economic backgrounds will help all students have access to a well-rounded program that includes activities such as art, music, and field trips, regardless of their family’s income,” said Scott Sargrad, Managing Director of K-12 Education Policy at CAP.

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’s report makes a number of recommendations and observations. Among them, districts can take policy actions—such as pooling a portion of parent donations or regulating the use of those donations—to benefit higher-poverty schools without substantially reducing overall parent contributions. The report also calls for greater transparency and reporting of each district’s private contributions; an annual needs assessment of every school to equitably allocate funding; and partnerships between schools across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Click here to read “Hidden Money: The Outsized Role of Parent Contributions in School Finance” by Catherine Brown, Scott Sargrad, and Meg Benner.

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Devon Kearns at or 202-641-6290.