Wednesday, July 7, 2010

LFP folo on school-fundraising series

I've been remiss in posting about a followup on the London Free Press' year-long series on fundraising and how many dollars families send to school with their children. The family tallies were published earlier, but last week as the school year was ending Jen O'Brien snagged proposed guidelines and also an interview with Minister Leona Dombrowsky. Article one was the one with the minister, and it was accompanied in print and online by a streeter of sorts with students.
The LFP editorial position on this whole shebang is that no fee is a good fee, and that the Grants for Student Needs and other provincial funding should cover everything. This is a position that has a lot of support.
The guidelines, from my read, attempt to ask boards to make a nuanced distinction between not charging for things like textbooks (although, a refundable textbook deposit— is that a fee?) needed to pass a high school credit and a yearbook fee.
It also encourages boards to have alternatives in place so that students whose families cannot pay are not excluded as a result of an inability to pay (or perhaps, a refusal— I remember when young my parents refused to sell chocolate bars).
I tend to be more nuanced. If kids are to take no money to school for anything, then we shouldn't expect or ask schools to do things like hot dog days, or pizza days. We should stop schools from becoming home-base for charitable causes like the Terry Fox Run, 30-hour famines and disaster-response campaigns such as the 2004 tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As to field trips, forget about them. No more bused daytrips to the outdoor education centre, or to the museum. No end-of-year trips to overnight at a outdoor centre / camp. No trips to Toronto, Ottawa or Quebec City.
None of these things could be defined as "essential" for a student's education, but anyone with some experience in educating children knows how these experiences can enhance classroom-based learning an add to what a student learns. Just the same way that fundraising for charitable causes is an important way of putting theory into practice on various social-justice initiatives.
Is a SMART board essential for learning? Should it be ministry funded or fundraised? I think ministry funded, but if that's the case it won't happen as quickly as some parents want, so they fundraise for it.
All the money for all these things flows through a school-based account and gets reported as school-generated funding.
Hopefully these guidelines will moderate some of the more extreme fees that have cropped up in some schools for students to be able to access items that are a core part of the curriculum. Hopefully, they don't start cutting off the other things whose dollars flow through school bank accounts and end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Banderblogger said...

One of the few good things that came out of the centralization of school board funding in Ontario is that it leveled the playing field somewhat across the province. When school boards had the ability to set their own tax rate, wealthier and denser metropolitan areas were able to raise funds more easily and could provide richer programs for their students than smaller rural boards.
Now the funding formula (in its own clumsy way) addressed this. However, in some of the tonier parts of Ontario, parents of students from a single school will raise tens of thousands of dollars a year to support school trips, playground equipment and, yes, tools such as computers and SmartBoards.
I would never tell parents that they should not support their child's school financially, but it is disturbing to see something as seemingly positive as school fundraising lead to something as destructive as disparity.
Probably the single most important aspect of a public schools system is that it acts as the great equalizer, that is it serves all students equally; everyone gets access to the same high quality of education, regardless of their background. We need to remain vigilant ensuring this fairness is maintained.

Education Reporter said...

Ultimately, the issues of disparity between schools are bigger than a school system. If anything, it's the "disadvantaged" schools that likely do a better job in providing access to things that aren't based on ability to pay.

The argument here though, is that students shouldn't suffer by not being able to pay a fee to participate in something. That inability or unwillingness to show the money becomes a barrier to entry, so to speak.

But can we splice the hair? Can we rid the fees that aren't needed while keeping the school-based funding dollars that support the school trips, the charitable causes, etc.?


Anonymous said...

absolutely nothing will happen if a parent refuses to or is unable to fundraise. Life goes on and so does education.

Parents need to be confident in being able to say "no:.

School councils are supposed to have fundraising plans each year and stick to the plan.

Parents should be told how much they will be expected to pay each year when they register their children for school. The truth of how much, so they are aware and can budget for it.

Secondary parents would be helped if the school listed how much it costs to be on a team or band. It's alot of money. Having up front and public leaves no surprises.

Banderblogger said...

In the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School board, teachers have addressed this disparity with a wonderful program called Teachers For Kids. Many teachers voluntarily make a yearly or per-paycheque donation to this charitable organization which is then augmented by a biennial auction. I believe they raise about $30,000 a year. This fund can be accessed by students and families for things such as trip costs, team fees, and the like. Not a definitive solution, but still a good idea.

Anonymous said...

what insults some parents is the expectation that parents are an open wallet.

I have to also say that parents can put unwanted pressure on other parents in this regard.

In a community like mine that has been hit very hard by manufacturing closures, school closures and where even the not-for-profits are hurting for donations because their is only one taxpayer and they're stretched to the max. here and simply can't keep paying out of pocket for all of those things the gov't insists are essential in a student's learning experience.

We've somehow been guilted into the believe that the school having more money will automatically improve the education of students, while experts tell us that it's teacher quality and competence above all else that is the driver behind excellence in the classroom.

I think you're right ER when you suggest that individual school communities might need to review the whole industry that fundraising has become.

After over 15 years with kids in the system my family was turned off of fundraising so much that we just stopped after one year when we tallied that we'd spent over $400, that we could have used elsewhere, on things that we really didn't need or that really didn't contribute much to education.