Public School Funding: Taxes or Parent Donations?

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Last updated on July 23, 2019 Comments: 30

When communities vote on public school budget proposals throughout the country, voting citizens evaluate the quality of the curricula, the perceived effectiveness of the administration, the students’ performance, the prioritization of students’ needs, and their own wallets. Rising costs and an unstable economy tend to push parents to be wary of budget increases that result in higher taxes. No one wants to pay more money for a mismanaged school district, but with unfunded school districts — and with wide differentiation between schools in wealthy communities and those in poorer communities — the quality of education overall continues to fall.

Schools underfunded through taxes turn to other sources to support the necessities of education. The funding picture is usually complex, but a significant part of the equation consists of donations from parents. Parent-teacher organizations help raise funds from parents in order to cover the costs of textbooks, teacher aids, and entire educational programs minimized by reduced budgets in tight economies. Bake sales have been a part of the parenting experience as far back as I can remember, but organizations are increasingly looking for monetary contributions.

Not every parent can afford to pay the suggested donations requested by PTA groups. One school could cover many different socio-economic communities. Even those who can afford $1,000 or $2,000 a year per student often believe that tax income should leave little responsibility for funding to the parents.

I’m a big fan of DonorsChoose, an organization designed to make private funding for educational needs more accessible. The organization allows teachers to list underfunded projects and accept donations to purchase the materials. The list of materials for each project is vetted by the DonorsChoose staff, and when a project is fully funded, DonorsChoose buys the materials and ships them to the school. No actual money reaches the school or the teacher. With this method, teachers are encouraged to list their best projects for potential funding or face embarrassment for posting a project that has little educational value. The best projects ideally receive funding the quickest.

Although I have no children in school — no children whatsoever — my prioritization of education as an issue leads me to support DonorsChoose campaigns organized by teachers I know or pertaining to topics about which I’m passionate, including arts and financial literacy.

This method is an improvement on the model of asking parents to write checks to the school, but works most effectively when combined with communication to the parents. Principals can send emails and letters to parents to keep them abreast of their school’s latest funding needs, and parents can see the results of their tax-deductible donations. Asking for money to fund education shouldn’t be necessary in this country where education is or should be a priority, but these needs exist, and schools committed to providing the best education possible for the students need to find creative ways to deal with financial shortcoming.

If you’re a parent with a child or children in school, are you asked to contribute financially? Is the local (or state, or federal) government responsible for ensuring a quality education is available to all, regardless of socio-economic status, through taxation? Are schools opting to spend the money they have inefficiently?

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Article comments

Anonymous says:

I support the national Texas movement . Yes we did run our own candidates, and yes I am willing to fight for what I beleive in thus The national Texas Movement. To withdraw from the US. Enforce The Republic of Texas Constitution. I assure you I am no democrat nor republican. As far as education go’s the constitutution states the Republic is required to teach your child how to read, write and do math along whith the history of the Republic that is all , It is up to the parent to raise their child and educate them ,not force someone to help you educte them. This country started out people paying their bills for themselves and out of socialism decided lets make every help me pay for my own. thus land taxes were created. My family home schooled their children and were better off. I supported another candidate Ron paul to end the department of education , the department of energy,department of epa , and so forth Yes I supported my Candidates, most agreed with the NTM we are not suppose to fund Government waste. The local towns should support their own school. They have proven if they cut out the sports programs in schools and made them after scholl projests with no district funds none of the schools would have a problem to pay for their own operations. so go back to the required cources and required by the Republics constitution and that wont be a problem. If you want more there is always home school . There were 8 kids in my family they raised their kids ,my brothers and sisters chose home schooling

Anonymous says:

I don’t support every one should pay school taxes. I did not have children so I dont feel it is my obligation to support your children. You had them,you take care of them. It is not my obligaton to feed them, educate them nor anything else they require.That is your fault you had them you care for them.It is not my duty to pay school taxes and support someones kids because they cant afford. to. The tax system is not fair and it taxes folks who wanted nothing to do with children and forces them to support folks who did. so The only way out of this was to sell my home which I did .I dont feel i will purchase a home again as long as they tax every one to help support peoples kids.

Anonymous says:

Oh man, this ought to be good. Let me guess the responses you’re going to get…

– If you went to public school then it’s your duty to pay for future generations.
– If you don’t like public things then stop using our roads!
– By living in society you agree to the social contract (side note: this one is my favorite)
– You may not have kids but it’s important that we steal from you because our future is in our children.

…and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there’s plenty more appeals to emotion that people will come up with.

Anonymous says:

What have you actually done to change this? Have you contacted your elected officials to encourage them to write budgets where school funds are not paid for out taxes but are paid via other means? Have you run for office with this as an integral part of your campaign? When you sold your home (which i’ll presume you did just to not pay property taxes) did you begin lining in conditions where you are not contributing to property tax (this means renting is also out of the question)? Have you written a bill to change the funding source of public education?

There are systems in place to change what you don’t like about our government system. If you are not using them all you are doing here is trying to stir up controversy. If you need a checklist to get started look at the first part of the post.

If you have done some or all of these let us know. That way those that support your views can join you in support of these measures. Just keep in mind that there is more to the issue than taxes paying for education of children you did not have. Do you really trust the individuals having children to provide for the teaching of those children of sufficient quality that their education level will not adversely affect you in the future (you will have to interact with some of those you children at some point in the future)?

Anonymous says:


I can’t speak for Marshall but I can tell you I’ve tried various way and they have all failed. However, that is beside the point. One should not have to campaign and write letters in order to keep the profits of their labor.

Consider what you’re actually asking for a moment. You’re asking him to write a letter to complain to the very people who are committing the aggression. This would be like asking the guy who stole your ipod to give it back. Not only would he likely tell you to buzz off, it’s insane to have to demand what is rightfully yours. You shouldn’t have to ask in the first place.

It’s actually even worse than that when it comes to government. Not only have they taken your property but they have done so while claiming a legal right to it. In other words, it’s going to be impossible to convince them to give it back as they are under the false impression that their claim is legitimate even though it is not.

And if you refuse to give in to this theft? Well then they pull out the guns and throw you into a metal cage.

Anonymous says:

What have i asked? I have asked of Marshall is tell us what of these things he has done and what exact results came from doing them. Once we can identify what results come from what action we can develop a plan enact change. If Marshall (or anyone else) is unwilling to share their knowledge then what change they really expect. People will run the same tests and get the same results.

Since you have tried various things tell us what you have tried and what results came from each test.

As for “writ[ing] a letter to complain to the very people who are committing the aggression”. Sometimes writing that letter can be the catalyst for change. If that one letter is the only feedback on a subject a politician get it can sway their vote. If enough people write then it gets harder to ignore. If the majority of someone’s constituents write with the same opinion on a topic then the politician that still ignores will likely get replaced with someone that will listen.

As for your analogies. They all seem to imply malice. I think ignorance is more likely the case.

Anonymous says:

“If that one letter is the only feedback on a subject a politician get it can sway their vote.”

Well you clearly aren’t writing to my legislators. I’ve written to them numerous times and I always get back a canned response: “Thanks for your thoughts but I don’t agree with them so sucks to be you.” Even in cases where there is overwhelming constituent support against something, politicians will still do it anyway. A perfect example was TARP. By some estimates the ratio 300:1 against the bill yet they passed it anyway. Clearly, even a majority support isn’t enough to get them to listen.

But even if that did work, consider just how completely immoral that is to begin with. Majority rules is only good if you’re in the majority. If 9 out of 10 people vote to steal your wallet it doesn’t make it right. And that’s the entire problem with democracy.

If you talk to any person off the street why a monarchy is a bad form of government you’ll come to realize it’s because one person gets to make decisions for everyone else. Similarly an oligarchy is bad because it’s the same power concentrated this time in the hands of a few as opposed to just one person. Democracy is just an extension of this. Now, 51% of the people get to bully around the other 49%. Sure it’s good if you’re in group making the decisions but for the rest of the people it sucks. IMHO, the only way to have a fair system is have a form of government where the only person you can make decisions for is yourself. In other words, everything must be voluntary.

Anonymous says:

Most of the schools around where i live do community fundraisers. Specifically they sell cookie dough. I do like the idea of DonorsChoose and would be apt to support those items for local schools around here. I however think a good part of schools being “underfunded” is related to 2 factors. Unions (every school seems to have a Teachers’ Union) and schools/teachers refusal to not move students on that are not ready for the next grade/class/level.

Looking at the issues the local Teachers Unions fight for vs those they don’t they only seem to back an issue that increases funding. If an issue does not affect funding they won’t champion it around here. Does not matter if it is worth support or not. If it increases funding they back it if it does not they wont. Perhaps Teachers’ Unions elsewhere are better. I also think Unions reduce the quality of Teachers but that could be its own separate post.

I believe failure to not pass students not yet ready to move on causes a chain reaction that is evident in this “under-funding” of schools. Not holding back students causes the next level to have to teach to a lower standard. Causing the next Teacher to need to cover a larger body of knowledge. Increased costs due to this. Leading to a decrease in the education level of all but one student (Thank you government Teach to the dumbest student but pass them even if they have not learned anything program – I mean No Child Left Behind). This leads to a lack of strong curriculum. You can’t expect teachers in 6th Grade to teach 6th Grade material if the 5th Grade teacher did not get through the recap of 3rd grade material for that not left behind child. Since all but that one student is not learning much the parents of those all but that one student don’t see value in education. People don’t often lend financial support to things that don’t work.

Anonymous says:

“Almost half of State prison inmates serving their sentence for selling or using illegal drugs had not graduated from high school or passed the GED (table 13). About 4 in 10 inmates
serving a sentence for a violent or property offense had not finished high school. Violent offenses include homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and assault, and property crimes include
burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and fraud. An estimated 42% of those in prison for a public-order offense — primarily weapons, obstruction of justice, and violations of supervised release — did not complete high school or its equivalent.”

Anonymous says:

Justin, the prison population is less educated than the general population. That is a fact. You can legalize pot if you wan’t (or whatever “victimless” crime you have in mind) but it won’t change the fact. There isn’t a large difference in the education level of convicts based on the nature of the crime.

I agree our public education system needs improvement in general and I don’t think throwing more money at it is necessarily the solution. I however don’t think that legalizing pot or abolishing public schools or paying private companies to do it are the answers to improving public schools.

Anonymous says:

How do you know that abolishing public schools and opening up education to a free market won’t work?

Anonymous says:

Are you going to address my statements regarding the incarceration of victimless crimes or should I take it as you conceding the point?

Anonymous says:

Neither. My point was that the lack of adequate schools will lead to more young folks going to prison because they lack the abilities/education necessary to meld into our society, get good jobs, or cope with life as an adult.

Anonymous says:

And taxing people to death to pay for a failed school system will lead to more people being unable to retire as they lack the savings to do so, thus pushing younger workers out of the market and causing them to go to prison.

Luke Landes says:

The small portion of property taxes designated for education are the least of people’s problems when it comes to saving for retirement.

Anonymous says:

It’s not a small portion. The personal savings rate was 3.4% for April according to the BEA ( and the school tax rate where I am is MORE than that.

Luke Landes says:

The point you made doesn’t disagree with the points Steve is making. “Victimless” crimes, like being in possession of marijuana as you alluded to, trap people of every demographic… yet they still do so disproportionately along socio-economic lines. Those same lines are also relevant for quality of and access to public education. Keeping children in school and in after-school programs has long been shown to reduce incarceration, particularly in low SES communities. It’s not the only key, obviously, but it helps. What is your source for the statement that “most kids don’t even want to be in school in the first place?” I suppose most would prefer to be out having fun, but when it comes down to it, children brought up in a pro-education environment have a good idea that school is important for their future, and even though they may be staring out the window, they know being there is better than not getting an education.

Now, about education being compulsory, it would be an interesting experiment to take a developed nation back several centuries, erase social and scientific advancement and see what happens, but I’d rather see the overall education level of this country increase in order to compete in a global economical and political environment.

Anonymous says:


I agree that the poor are disproportionately affected. But clearly compulsory education is not working as evidence by the continuing failure and poor test scores. More importantly, it’s immoral to force someone against their will, even if it’s to their supposed benefit. You wouldn’t throw people in jail for not exercising or eating right, would you?

“when it comes down to it, children brought up in a pro-education environment have a good idea that school is important for their future”

I think this highlights an interesting point. Yes, children in supportive environments will probably realize the importance of education (in most cases, not always). However, compulsory education does nothing to change that fact; better parenting does.

Luke Landes says:

Any individual’s poor performance on tests is not going to improve by permitting that student to forgo a high school education. Getting rid of the poor-performing students might bring a school’s average test score up, but that doesn’t really solve any societal problem — or individual problem for the affected low-scoring students. Most test scores aren’t good indicators of much beyond the ability to score well on tests, anyway. That’s a separate issue. The continuing failure and poor test scores does not indicate that the problem is compulsory education.

“Failure at high school not only affects the individual, but it also affects society. Affected students cannot attend college, are more likely to have low paying jobs and feel political apathy; they then can constitute a loss in tax revenue, may experience health problems, and place a strain on social services (Rosenfeld, Richman and Bowen, 1998). A recent U. S. Department of Labor study shows that 6.7 percent of adults with no high school diploma are likely to be unemployed, while only 3.5 percent of adults with a high school diploma are likely to be unemployed. With a bachelor’s degree, only 1.8 percent of adults are likely to be unemployed (U. S. Dept. of Labor, 1999).” source. The numbers are a little old, particularly considering the recession made life even worse for those without a complete high school education.

If you’re concerned about a “nanny state” from a Libertarian point of view, then I know I can’t sway your opinion. And I don’t intend to try. The fact is that there exists an entity called society, and when society’s priorities are apparently different than individuals’ priorities, someone needs to be concerned about and represent the good of the society. And a well-educated populace is important for the good of the society, even if some kids don’t want to sit in a classroom and would prefer to be playing video games or building iPods for Apple in a factory. Saying that school shouldn’t be required because “most kids don’t want to go to school” is like saying shoplifting should be legal because most people prefer to get what they want for free.

Truancy affects children under the age of 18, and society allows for adults telling children what to do without it being considered “immoral,” thus “forcing” children to attend school. The age of 18 may be relatively arbitrary, but it works for me. Also, people rarely go to jail for truancy. Most of the time, the school can handle the situation, and when they can’t, courts are more inclined to issue a fine than send someone to jail — unless the judge deems it necessary to “send a message” to the community (dangerous in and of itself).

Better parenting would certainly solve lots of problems in this country, but bad parenting can’t be solved by just asking people to be better parents. It takes good role models — and education. It’s one thing to choose not to attend college as a legal adult, or to eat unhealthily — which does bear a cost to society, but perhaps not as noticeable as a lack of education. (Improve education, and you improve eating habits, too. The relationship between education and health has been proven in several studies.)

Anonymous says:

“Saying that school shouldn’t be required because ‘most kids don’t want to go to school’ is like saying shoplifting should be legal because most people prefer to get what they want for free.”

C’mon Flexo. You know better than this. Shoplifting is wrong because you are using aggression against someone (and their possessions in this case). You are using force to take things against their will. This is exactly the reason compulsory education is wrong–you’re taking away an individual’s choice by using force against them.

Anonymous says:


That is just patently untrue. People are jailed all the time for victimless “crimes” which trap people of every demographic, high school and college diploma owners included. It doesn’t matter how much money we throw at schools (unsuccessfully, I might add) when the government can violently force you into a metal cage for having a plant in your pocket.

Additionally, nearly everyone here is neglecting to see the failure of our public education system. People are acting like schools are underfunded and these poor, willing children don’t have the opportunity to learn. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most kids don’t even want to be in school in the first place.

Nothing highlights the complete failure of this system better than the fact that our education system is compulsory. Take away the compulsory requirement and watch as our schools are empty the next day.

Anonymous says:

When students drop out of school, the course of their lives may be totally reset. Dropouts typically earn less than their peers with more education, and they are more likely than high school graduates to end up in prison. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Anonymous says:

Being retired (Kids are gone and the locks have all been changed) I always consider tax increases with more than a little skepticism. However I usually fall back on one basic fact. Our jails are not full of High School and College Graduates; they are full of people who either by choice or circumstance (poor schools being one of them) didn’t succeed in our society. Therefore I usually vote in favor of the increases because I don’t want the system to fail. There may be alternatives but even without kids in school I benefit when they succeed.

Anonymous says:

I wonder if drawing this style connection would support for funding increases for schools within the general population? This is a discussion point i have not heard before. I married into a family of educators and still have not hear this point in all our discussions on the topic. Do you know of any research to validate this (it could be good to have handy if/when i make this point in discussion)?

Anonymous says:

Great call to action. I think citizens regardless if they have children or not, need to know what is happening within their schools, on a neighborhood, district, state and federal level.

Anonymous says:

“…with unfunded school districts…the quality of education overall continues to fall”

The quality of education has been falling or stagnate, even when funded was not an issue. The problem is not money, it’s lack of competition and choice.

Anonymous says:

Why is lack of competition the problem?

Police departments, municipal water supplies, interstate highways, fire stations, and various government publicly funded services do not have competition yet perform perfectly fine.

Anonymous says:

Haha, no they don’t!

Anonymous says:

As a public school teacher, I can say the current system does not work. In bad times (last 4-5 years), the public school system has suffered by underfunding. Class size has balooned, furlough (unpaid) days is common and education is in turmoil. The solution is not coming from within or the states. Donations are just a temporary measure. This problem needs a long term solution.

Anonymous says:

I think schools should be funded via tax dollars and that it should be equalized across the entire state so that rich schools aren’t funded better than poor schools.

Donations are fine to fund extra curricular stuff like field trips or clubs.

I don’t expect that donations really represent much of school funding. I found a site that said that California donations to schools totalled 1.3B in 2007 and the state spends >46B annually on education so thats just less than 3%.