Parents pass hat to make up for school budget cuts

SEATTLE (AP) — Rachael Bouma calculated the cost of keeping rambunctious kindergartners under control at her son’s school at exactly $227.

That was the amount she and other parents in the Tacoma district figured every family with kids in Lowell Elementary’s kindergarten classes would need to contribute to save the jobs of three teacher’s aides. Though some families gave more and some less, the parents ended up raising $16,000 in a few months, and all three classes got their aides.

“It really frees up the teacher to be able to work in small groups and work individually with students on academics,” said Bouma, whose son, Henry, was in a class of 24.

As budget cuts hit school districts across the nation, moms and dads are digging into their own pockets or organizing fundraisers to buy school supplies, save programs, even preserve teachers’ jobs.

“We used to raise money to buy art supplies for kids who couldn’t afford to buy their own. Now we buy the art teacher,” said Bill Williams, executive director of the Washington state PTA. “That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, but not much of one.”

The practice comes with some controversy.

Some fear it will only widen the gap between rich and poor school systems and set a dangerous precedent that will make it easier for politicians to shortchange public education. In New York City, parent groups ran afoul of the teachers union for using their own money to hire classroom aides.

“It is commendable that parents are so dedicated to quality education for every student that they raise money to pay for teachers and other necessary resources. Yet it is deplorable that any group has to raise money to fund basic resources we know students need to succeed,” said Bill Raabe, director of collective bargaining for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.

The economic crisis has led states to slash money for public schools by an estimated $350 billion over the next two years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

As a result, PTAs — known more for funding field trips and teacher- appreciation gifts — have gotten more serious about fundraising. James Martinez, a spokesman for the national PTA, estimated the nation’s 25,000 PTAs raised close to $1 billion this past school year.

“PTAs are just having to come up with new and innovative and creative ways to raise money, and they’re doing it,” Martinez said.

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