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GrantEd Op-Ed on Councilmember Grosso's PTO Equity Bill

Last week Councilmember David Grosso introduced a well-intentioned bill to address stark inequities among Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) at the District’s public schools. The bill would establish an “equity fund” that would be shared equally by all PTOs across the District of Columbia, filled by an “equity fee” of 10 cents for every dollar in excess of $10,000 spent by a PTO in a given school year. It would also restrict PTOs from directly funding the salaries of instructional staff members.

Kudos to Councilmember Grosso for recognizing and attempting to remedy one of the District’s most poorly documented disparities. Seventy-five percent of DC elementary schools did not report any PTO income in 2015, while the remaining quarter raised more than $5.5 million. The gulf between rich and poor PTOs in this city is more chasm than gap and frustratingly exacerbates the many other systemic economic differences between our schools. Furthermore, when affluent members of our community can so effectively fundraise their way out of the shortcomings at their neighborhood schools, the greater DC parent community loses voices in the call to address these systemic inadequacies.

Thankfully, a solution to the inequities between PTOs that Coucilmember Grosso highlights with this bill already exists--and it’s not a bureaucratic mandate that could stifle community support. It is GrantEd Foundation, a volunteer-run nonprofit, designed for efficient, targeted, on-demand classroom support across all public and charter schools.

In 2016, after 4 years of fundraising for our neighborhood Title 1 school, my two partners and I saw that our booster-raised funds were being put toward large-scale whole-school initiatives in the absence of DCPS budget allowances, while teachers were still left footing the bill for paper, books, and other basic classroom supplies in their efforts to make sure their students had what they needed. In fact, DC teachers spend $3.2 million per year out of their own pocket to bring these basics into their classrooms; those in schools with no or very little PTO presence have it the hardest. In Wards 7 and 8, where many of our partner schools are, the $500 average expenditure per teacher amounts to $1.2 million of their own money spent to support their classrooms. What’s more, as several have pointed out in the conversation following the announcement of Councilmember Grosso’s bill, when such large-scale initiatives (teacher salaries, student experiences, etc.) are assumed by parent communities, it masks the underlying problems that DCPS can’t afford to miss.

GrantEd Foundation was founded as the vehicle to ensure that teachers would no longer have to spend their own money to keep their classrooms adequately supplied, to provide out-of-classroom experiences for their students, or to access the professional development necessary to keep classrooms current and effective. Our mission is to keep teachers from spending money out of pocket. Though the mission is narrow, it has an important broader effect: it provides the community members of a single school district a way to share the burden of supporting all teachers through a single efficient and effective mechanism that allows donors--from individual community members to small businesses and corporations with educational philanthropic interests--to see the impact of their dollars directly and efficiently working toward equity across schools.

We administer fast-cycle microgrants of up to $500 to DC public school teachers using the technology in each teacher’s pocket to create a frictionless application process: teachers only need to upload a 1-minute video describing their need. It’s a no-hassle approach to quickly provide teachers with not only basic needs, but the autonomy to realize the classrooms they know their students need to succeed.

The first request we ever fulfilled was for $50 for paper and watercolors. Since then we’ve partnered with 25 DC public and charter schools and have disbursed $60,000 across 191 grants. Currently, a teacher’s chances of receiving requested funds is 83%, with some months reaching 100%. With hyper-targeted giving, GrantEd cuts waste, serves teachers in real time, and identifies--rather than masks--the shortcomings that schools across the District face. It can be the efficient, effective, and transparent solution to the nationwide problem of inequity in public school funding due to variable community support.

Councilmember Grosso’s bill seeks to solve that core problem we identified in 2016: teachers working in the highest need communities have the least access to funding to support their classrooms. But while we wait to see how the bill ends up, alternatives like the GrantEd Foundation offer independent, objective, non-governmental solutions that are worth supporting and expanding before turning to a bureaucratic solution.

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