Push for math program by Apache parents highlights disparity in fundraising ability between affluent, economically disadvantaged elementaries

Members of the Apache PTA are asking the Shawnee Mission community to support a fundraising effort to pay for a math program at the school. File photo.

A fundraising initiative under way to pay for a math program at a local elementary highlights a disparity that exists among Shawnee Mission schools: the ability to pay for school resources using money provided by PTAs.

Apache IS, which became the pilot site for the district’s “innovative school” model in 2016, has among the largest enrollments of the district’s elementary schools. A Title I school, it also serves an economically disadvantaged population.

Stacy Hetz, an original member of the Education First Shawnee Mission group and the president of the Apache IS PTA, said that while the school has seen a number of positive movement over the past couple years under the IS model, it still struggles to get much involvement from parents in its PTA.

“It’s hard to be involved in PTA when you work multiple jobs, don’t speak the dominant language or don’t have someone to watch your kids while at the meeting,” Hetz said. “I have heard from many of the other Title I PTAs that they have similar problems. Many of our schools don’t have wealthy parents, or stay-at-home parents that can volunteer in the classroom.”

That difference can play out in the resources schools have available. PTA groups at elementary schools in more affluent parts of the district use funds raised from auctions and other events — which can bring in more than $100,000 a year — to support staff positions like foreign language teachers or counselors. But the money needed for those PTA-supported resources can be cost prohibitive in less affluent pockets of the Shawnee Mission community.

Last week, Hetz organized a fundraising effort through Facebook called Apache Kids Deserve It! The goal is to raise $6,000 to help pay for a two-year subscription to a math program the district wasn’t able to cover in this year’s operating budget for the school. (Under the Kansas school funding formula, districts can use operating funds for classroom expenses. Funds in the capital budget, which pay for facilities and buildings, cannot be used in the classroom).

“Our Parent-Teacher Association is stretched thin and our students desperately need a proven program to gain fact fluency in math,” reads the message on the fundraising page. “Our school is unable to generate money the way affluent schools do across the district, so we are asking for your help. Those schools, along with their Parent-Teacher Associations and school foundations, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. This is simply out of reach for us unless we spread our message beyond our community.”

Five days into the fundraiser, the group has raised about $3,200 from more than 90 donors.

Hetz said she believed that the legislature should be focused on improving school funding so that the burden to raise funds for such items would no longer be place on PTAs.

“If we had pro-education legislators in Topeka, we would not have to have an inflated [local option budget] and on top of that have PTAs pay for counselors, Spanish teachers, teacher supplies, etc…,” she said.