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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ask a teacher: What's the deal with these $*#%ing fundraisers?

How many fundraisers have you gotten this year? Five? Ten? Did you lose count? I lost count a while ago. So what's the deal with these fundraisers? Aren't schools well funded enough on their own?

Eh, the short answer is not exactly. The long answer is that budgets are really tight and earmarked months in advance. But fundraisers? That's just money growing on trees for schools. As long as the random teacher fills out what they might use as a fundraiser at the beginning of the year, a process very similar to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, they can continually come back to the fundraisers when they need things.

There's been a crack down in my state this year on fundraising, but again, as long as you put a possible description of what you might do on a list at the beginning of the year, you're usually good to go ahead with whatever fundraiser you have.

The gimmicky ones, like selling wrapping paper and magazine subscriptions are an easy go to for schools. The prizes are already included for overachieving families who go above and beyond the call of fundraising. Sure, schools get less of a cut because there's a middle man in the process, but it's much less work than organizing incentives for your individual school. The prizes get talked up big by teachers who get the kids all excited and then you've got a kindergartener complaining that they just neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed that cheap SpongeBob shirt. Sure you can buy them one at the store, but the cheap one at school is the one that everyone else is getting and they have to have it.

Fundraisers are an easy bandaid over the shortfalls in budgeting at schools across the nation. Schools that can afford to do so nickle and dime their parents through these fundraisers as a means to pay for programs that hopefully lure in the parents that have the disposable income to be nickle and dimed. My school does not do many fundraisers like these. Our school is 100% free lunch. Mom and Dad aren't going to be purchasing the minimum rolls of wrapping paper to just hit the small goal per student. We don't even bother anymore. Most fundraisers end up entirely funded by the teaching staff at the school, like when our band sells Amish food (don't ask, it's just delicious and there's no calorie info so I assume there's zero calories and oh God I ate a whole pound of fudge).

Money that my school uses on basic things like pencils and paper, at schools that can afford fundraisers is then used to fancy things that make the school look better. It's a way around that whole "free" education thing. Because when buy $50 worth of delivered groceries just so your kid can get a cheap prize and won't complain about how all the other kids, you can bet all the other parents are doing so, too. I've had multiple parents comment that they'd rather write a blanket check at the beginning of the year than have to call grandma and grandpa hocking cheap candles one more time, but there's the problem. You can't just write a check and be done with it because public school is meant to be free.

I wish I could tell you it was okay to just not do the fundraising. I've got a kindergartener at a school that can afford to nickle and time parents and boy have they. My son comes home super excited about some random toy he might get and I'm sucked into buying a subscription to National Geographic or something random just to try to hit the quota. Do what works for your family, but I know the sting of that peer pressure all too well. I may or may not have bought half a dozen scented candles myself. Mostly may. At the end of the day, I just can't stand the thought of my kid being the only one who didn't get the minimum prize because I didn't want to play the fundraising game.


Emilie is a high school English teacher with two children. She holds a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. After completing student teaching at an urban, Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, she was placed at another PLA school in the same school district. Her Ask a Teacher column can also be found over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes.

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