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PTA Gifts Worsen Stratification

There was a time when differences in opinions within PTA's were over curriculum and related matters.  But today, fund-raising has become a contentious issue ("PTA Gift for Someone Else's Child? A Touchy Subject in California," The New York Times, Apr. 9).

What is happening in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in Southern California is a case in point.  In 2011, when the sharing program began, there was agreement that the money raised from parents would be pooled and divided equally among the schools in the district.  That's because despite popular belief, poverty exists in the 11,000-student district.  For example, four of the 11 elementary schools qualify for Title I aid. 

But lately the plan has angered parents, mostly from more affluent Malibu, who want their donations to help their own children first. I can understand this natural reaction.  Parents have a duty to provide their own children with the best education possible.  But in this particular case, they are missing the larger picture.  All elementary and middle school students eventually attend the two high schools in the unified district.  As a result, whatever benefits their own children receive before enrolling will eventually be offset or diluted by the deficits that other children bring to the two high schools.

The money involved is significant, with total donations amounting to between $4 million and $5 million annually.  So far this school year, only 21 percent of Malibu parents have donated to the central fund.  That compares with 41 percent of Santa Monica families.  I think the divide will widen, as pressure builds to allow Malibu to secede from the district to form its own.  I think that's a mistake that parents will eventually regret.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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