Apples or iPads? Inequality and Fundraising in Schools


Backpack Surprises

When I open up my child’s backpack, there are many things I don’t like to find. Used fundraise backpackKleenex, punctured containers of yogurt, and an open water bottle next to a library book, are some good examples. Those things, however, can be easily resolved.

But this week, my newest after-school gift came in the form of … yet another school fundraising package. So, I found myself staring at a Dance-A-Thon envelope and wondering what to do. Now, if you’ve read my recent post on charity fundraising birthday parties, you might be confused. “Surely, she should be happy to donate money to the school, and teach the kids about making a contribution in the process!” Nope. She’s going to write a rant-y blog post instead.

The Problem

The problem is, my children attend school in a high-income neighbourhood and the Dance-A-Thon money goes directly to supporting projects at their school. There is no common pool for all of the fundraising money to help those schools who desperately need basic resources. As a result, we get Smart Boards in every room, expensive, designer “learning tafundraise ipad-1126136_640bles” and class iPad sets, while other schools struggle to find money for basic nutrition programs or field trips.

It’s not difficult to understand what is happening. Fundraising efforts in well-off neighbourhoods see parents handing over fists of cash, and competing to volunteer their time for field trips or breakfast programs, while parents elsewhere simply don’t have the time or resources.

Under Pressure

The pressure tactics take many forms. For example, some fundraisers only allow children to participate in an activity if they contribute a minimum amount to the fundraiser. And, we are all familiar with those beloved organizations that offer cheap toys or draw entries to reward children for their fundraising efforts.

In Grade 1, my son was taken to the Book Sale fundraiser, where he was asked to select a fundraise hand-506754_640list of books he wanted, and then write down their names and prices to take home so I could “choose” to buy them if I wanted.

There’s no pressure quite like the fear of having your child stigmatized for your stinginess! Fortunately, from what I can tell, this particular dance event does not appear to have any of those kinds of strings attached. I do appreciate that certain fundraising teams are attempting to create a more inclusive atmosphere.

Meanwhile, school fundraising is increasing inequality in schools

This article, from the Toronto star, describes the problem:

As fundraising gap grows, Toronto’s wealthy schools leaving poor schools behind.

Also, a 2013 report by the Ontario organization, “People For Education,” makes the following observations:

  • The top 10% of fundraising schools in Ontario raise as much as the bottom 81%.
  • High income elementary schools fundraise at five times the rate of low income schools.

Why does this matter?

When children have access to enrichment activities, field trips, and superior resources and facilities, there are better learning outcomes. The inequality in fundraising deepens the fundraise earthquake-1665892_640.jpgfissure that already exists between schools in have- and have-not neighbourhoods and makes glaringly obvious the polarized experiences for the children who attend them.

Furthermore, the children in the low-income schools are less likely to get educational resources and experiences from home, and actually need educational enhancements in their schools MORE than children in wealthier neighbourhoods.

Check out this brilliant comic that explains privilege. 

But, I’m not convinced that many parents are aware this is going on. Many make the assumption that all schools in our region provide roughly equal experiences. This is not the case.

The Solution

So, I ask one simple question:

Why don’t we have a central fundraising pool to help schools who truly need the funds, and equalize educational opportunities between all students?

Or, do we really live in a community where parents aren’t willing to donate money if they can’t see the direct results in the form of iPads in their own children’s hands?

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against raising money for charities and increasing empathy in schools. I’m happy to support the Terry Fox Run, and the wonderful work that has been done through the Me to We program. Teaching children about charity is absolutely essential, and something we focus on a great deal at home. (Please see my posts on charity birthdays….here and here.) But, we must be mindful of our actions and determine how we can actually make the most difference.

And so, Dance-A-Thon envelope, despite your request for a minimum of $20 per child, you will remain empty. I will, instead, attach a note about my donation to another fund, one that hopefully distributes money based on real need.

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5 Responses to Apples or iPads? Inequality and Fundraising in Schools

  1. skulegirl says:

    Hear hear! I’ve been the school council chair for a few years at my boys’ elementary school. We live in a pretty affluent area, but it’s a small one in an urban centre in Kitchener and the school catchment contains the largest public housing project in town, where something like 70% of our students live.

    Our school has had a “one fundraiser per year” policy for a long while, instituted I believe by our former principal, because the general thinking was that parents with lower incomes don’t want to be inundated with requests for money they don’t have. We have a new principal now, and she recently sent an email with a link to a Canada-Helps fundraiser trying to raise $500 for our Nutrition For Learning program. I was pleasantly surprised to find that by the time I’d opened the email and checked, they were already more than halfway to that goal! I recognized a few names on the donations list as those from the wealthier side of the tracks. I think the email directly to the parents seems to be a good compromise, as there is no pressure on the students to participate, so no stigma if they don’t bring any funds in.

    That being said, you can always donate directly to the school board (in Waterloo Region anyway). The Waterloo Education Foundation indicates that funds go things like nutrition programs, support for school supplies and gym uniforms for less advantaged students, etc. Check it out:

    • Super…canada helps…good way to go! Yes, that wefi foundation was the one I’m talking about at the end. I contacted them and you have to pick the school it goes to though. So I’ll have to research which schools could most use a boost I guess. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Your idea of a “pool” of money is interesting. It could be a nice lesson for the students if they gave a portion of the funds they raised to a neighboring school anonymously and even restricted it for something specific. I don’t know what that would be but the kids may know. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Apples or iPads? Inequality and Fundraising in Schools — Unlocking the Gate – School Craft Fair

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