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