The problem with fundraising in schools

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      A group of school staffers and parents in Vancouver's Strathcona community sent us the following open letter:

      Saving endangered animals, building wells in Africa, giving the local school a new playground- surely the world will never run out of good causes worth fighting for. And of course, all fundraising events held in a school community start with a good intention - the wish to support a valuable cause.

      However, fundraising in schools is in direct conflict with two other great causes we should never stop fighting for: the well-being of our school community and the healthy funding of our public education system. Unfortunately, due to the chronic underfunding of public education, some of us feel compelled to supplement what minimal funds we have for basic necessities.

      In many schools, raising money often comes in the form of children advertising and selling goods to their peers/parents or wider school community. The goods are usually targetted at children (candies, sweets, etc ). This practice isn’t limited to Christmas or Valentine’s day. We often see fundraising events taking place in our school during school hours.

      The ethical problem with fundraising in schools is clear, simple and well-documented. When we target children with fundraising events, we take advantage of the fact that most children will want to purchase such goods, without consideration of their family’s economic state and well-being. In addition, our students can not fully understand the economic pressures their families may be under.

      Some will argue that it is the family’s responsibility to handle such matters and make the best choices for themselves. However, we need to take into consideration the well known struggle of a significant proportion of our school communities. Despite our good intentions, it is unethical to target children, or pressure families, even though we may be raising money for a good cause.

      With regards to fundraising for school supplies and supplementals, some may say that our schools would benefit from more books, more technology, better infrastructure and more staff and that if we can pay for these things through fundraising then why shouldn’t we? However, our schools are public schools, and that means they are supposed to be, just like the army, the police force and garbage collection, funded by the government, not by cupcake sales or book fairs organized by its school communities.

      Present public funding is insufficient to create acceptable teaching and learning conditions for all. The solution to this problem should not be fundraising. The belief that our public school system should depend on fundraising to operate is akin to saying the government only has a partial responsibility to fund public education. The effect of that laxity is leading to a growing disparity between schools. Unsuprisingly, wealthy communities can afford to participate to a high degree to supplement the funding of their schools; less wealthy communities, less so; struggling communities, not at all. School budgets should be dictated by the core principle of public education: to deliver equal opportunities for all children to develop their abilities, regardless of where children attend school.

      If school communities continue to accommodate the problem of deficient funding from the government by embracing this unethical fundraising culture as the only solution, in a few years from now, what was once known as an equitable and supportive public education system will have become a semi-private system with partial subsidies from a government that no one longer dares to hold accountable for public education.

      Therefore, if school communities agree on one cause to fight for, let it be the one of honouring our duty to educate in the most equitable and just manner. By refusing to fundraise at our schools for either charity or school resources, school staff members demand that our government and school boards honor their duty to properly fund and manage the system we work in.


      A Group of Concerned Citizens of the Strathcona Community




      Mar 6, 2015 at 6:28pm

      WELL thought through. Critical points raised and so well explained.

      THANK YOU for speaking up and arguing for what is just and fair! We have to keep speaking up - this government is ignoring the needs of the majority of the children and youth in BC and fundraising for what is being underfunded is NOT the SOLUTION!


      Mar 8, 2015 at 8:53am

      I agree about not fundraising for OUR supposedly publicly funded schools, but feel that fundraising for reputable charities who help to make education, of any kind, available in countries far less privileged, is still a worthy undertaking. To me, they are separate forms of fund-raising and should be treated separately.

      Mom of one grade 2 student in Ontario

      Mar 8, 2015 at 11:12am

      The activity of fundraising for charitable causes (cancer, heart and stroke, diabetes, etc etc etc) should only occur AFTER every students of a particular school has a solid understanding of where the heck the money comes from in the first place. I'm talking about a pay cheque for an honest day's work. Only a handful of today's elementary students have a clue of the following concepts: minimum wage, income tax or EI, mortgages or credit cards, hydro and heat expenses, etc etc. Shall I go on? So until a student can grasp the idea of earnings (where money comes from), schools should not be imposing their fundraising activities on ANY children whatsoever (elementary and secondary). Priorities, people.

      Mary L.

      Mar 8, 2015 at 6:09pm

      I have long been opposed to fundraising on behalf of a school, especially by elementary-grade students. Many of the fundraisers include 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes for most products sold - you have 6 year-olds, wanting to win that prize at all costs, no matter the weather, no matter what kind of neighbourhood; to keep the child safe, parents often go out WITH the child, or are in the position of talking their friends and/or relatives into buying products which we all could live without, save for this fundraiser. And for the children that do end up basically soliciting up and down their neighbourhoods - where does any school get off thinking it's suitable to teach children the rigours of door-to-door salesmanship at this tender age?
      Absolutely, schools should be funded by the government, fully and equally. There should be no disparity between school districts and what their schools can and can't afford. If we are reasonable about what is actually needed for sound school programmes, this can be structured in such a way that all schools ARE equal.
      I applaud the initiative when schools take on a project, such as helping charitable causes - it is a learning experience worthy of prime classroom time, and so is volunteering home-time for it. I would far rather reward that, than sales volume of coffee cups or chocolate bars.

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      Mar 8, 2015 at 11:15pm

      What if teachers stopped spending their own money on their classrooms? How dull and drab many of these environments would become! How many special art or technology projects just wouldn't happen? How hard would it be to find an extra pencil. Teachers, too are subsidizing the system, some of them, to the tune of over $1000 per year.


      Mar 9, 2015 at 6:30am

      We raise $12000-$15000 every year thro various fundraising like movies night, BBQ chocolate fundraising and Pizza day. These money goes to school children in various forms like scientist workshop and excursions for which parents council contribute 50%. I agree Iit should not be imposed and shd be voluntary. There r other voluntary collection for the good cause like Terry fox diabetes and heart strokes etc. On an average I gv $500-600 for fundraising. Some people who hv migrated frm poor or riots country really hv hard time even raising $7-10 for scientists and excursions coz thyhv left all their rriches in their home country and struggle to survive in our country.

      Get on with it

      Mar 9, 2015 at 8:08am

      Whenever things don't go my way, I like to complain as much as I can, as often as I can. It doesn't solve anything, but I feel better. I think we should stop fundraising and donating our time and money to schools so that they will fall in to disrepair and then there will be a popular uprising and Christy Clark won't get re-elected 2 years from now. That'll learn em.

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      Jean W.

      Mar 9, 2015 at 9:31am

      School kids are easy targets for some charity organizations. As a parent I'm constantly being asked to give for this cause or that. During the school year I think I give over $100.00 to charity organizations through the school. I feel obligated to give because the schools make a competition of it - which class or school can raise the most money. I never get a tax receipt because the amount is usually less than $20.00 which I think is kind of unfair.
      I also dislike the amount of class time given activities at the school to raise money for these charities, sometimes its the whole school day.
      I don't mind when the fundraising directly benefits the students at the school - to reduced the cost of an expensive trip or to buy seeds for the school garden, etc.
      Governments should look at how school boards distribute funding to schools. More funds should go to the schools and less to the board. I'm asked to provide my kids with pens, pencils, paper, etc., but I see school board giving away "swag" in the form pens, coffee mugs, folders, bags, etc., in an effort to promote their school board.

      elementary mom

      Mar 9, 2015 at 10:23am

      The principal at my kids school is very proud of the amount of funds our school has raised for various charities, charities that don't benefit the school. He said we've raised more money for charities than the whole schools budget.
      But we were also told that the school's annual year end trip for the grade 8 students will no longer happen because some students might not be able to afford the trip and they may then be excluded.
      Is there something wrong here?


      Mar 9, 2015 at 4:35pm

      Charity is important for everyone BUT it does not have to include fundraising. Teach the students other things they can do, to make a difference, besides opening their piggy banks. The amount of money that is asked throughout the year in the average Ontario school is outrageous. Starting in September and going every month till June the school is asking for money for one thing or another. From Terry Fox to biweekly pizza there are times I am sending 4 separate baggies with money for various things. It is not fair to those parents who can't afford to contribute to everything that school is asking for. I am lucky to have a great paying job but I feel for those parents who are faced with often telling their children that they can't participate in something because of finances.