Thursday, April 10, 2008

K Files Council: Donating money to public schools

I'd like some advice:

My son will be starting kindergarten at a public school in San Francisco this fall. I would like to give my son's teacher $100 a month to use for supplies, class trips or whatever. Any suggestions on how to do this? Should I just offer it to the teacher? Should I approach the principal? Do people think its more constructive to just donate to the school PTA? (I would also donate money to the PTA during the year.) I'm leaning to just offering it to the teacher as I would like my son to benefit from better supplies in his class, etc., and I keep hearing how teachers pay for supplies out of their own pockets. But, I also want to make sure I will not be violating any school policies. And, since taxes are due next week, anyone know if this would be tax deductible?



  1. Check with the principal as to the policy. Our principal does not want money to go directly to the teachers. The policy at our school is to donate through the PTA only (which is tax deductible). Our school has grade based wish lists (in the prior year, it was a wish list from each classroom), so money received could be designated for a particular grade level. In addition, the PTA gave each teacher a stipend at the beginning of the year for supplies. Personally, I have just bought supplies and given them to the teacher in my child’s class besides giving to the class level wish list.

  2. The PTA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donations are deductible. That's presumably true with any non-PTA parent group too.

    I'm not sure if teachers are even supposed to accept cash directly from parents, though you could presumably give some kind of practical gift card (a market? Office Depot?) that would have a domino effect.

    Most teachers and schools provide wish lists of needed classroom supplies. You can never go wrong buying a case of copy paper (well, unless every parent buys 10 and there's a storage problem).

    Depending on the school, PTA/parent group money may already be going to classrooms. The amounts vary, but many PTAs/parent groups provide classroom grants to each teacher.

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  4. One thing you might want to really consider is does your child benefit from what you provide his/her class if there are other classrooms in the same grade not getting those extra resources - those kids will be mixed together as your child goes up in the grades. Of course they will have different experiences, but you might want to think about at least trying to give your donation to the teachers of your child's whole grade level. Most teachers at most schools do work closely with their colleagues in that grade and could strategize to maximize what you can give for ALL the students.

    Another way of course to do that is to donate to the PTA which does work for the whole school and supports a lot of things your child will benefit from such as arts programs, library books, field trips, science teachers, etc. to name a few PTA sponsored things at other schools.

  5. "The PTA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donations are deductible. That's presumably true with any non-PTA parent group too."

    That is incorrect. To be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (to which donations are tax-deductible), the organization must be apply for and receive tax-exempt status from the IRS. Many PTAs have secured this status, but it's very possible that other parent groups - even some that call themselves PTAs - have not bothered to file the paperwork necessary to become actual 501(c)(3)s.

    I would check with the PTA's - or any group's - president before assuming that my donations to it are deductible. Every organization with 501(c)(3) status should be able to provide you with a copy of the IRS determination letter showing its status. If not, securing 501(c)(3) status is a worthwhile project for someone to take on. You don't need to be a lawyer to fill out the paperwork, though you do need to be able to read and follow instructions carefully.

  6. Our school asks us not to give money to the teachers.

    However what the teachers do is compile grade level wish lists.

    So for example if there are 2 K classes in the school, the room parents for each class get together and send out a request to both classes soliciting donations.

    The families write their checks to the PTA (ours is a 501(c) with a tax id number) with a note, ex: K wish list donation. The PTA then uses those funds to buy the wish list item(s).

    This provides equity across the grade level, so all the K kids benefit for example, instead of just one class.

  7. I give my $100 a month to the PTA. I also asked my son's teacher directly at the beginning of the year if there were something she would like for the classroom. She said a fan, so I went and bought one. You could check in through the year to see what she or the group of K teachers needs. We receive school notices every week and the K team sends a letter about what the kids are doing, and if they need something in particular they list it there. Like art supplies, healthy snacks, shopping bags, whatever.

    Your teacher might also be seeking funding toward a bigger item like a new rug or a digital camera,(through or elsewhere.) You could consider buying the big item as a one time contribution too.

    Also, I gave the teachers cash at Christmas, and there's nothing to say you couldn't slip your teacher a gift every month if you wanted to. But going thorugh the PTA will be most equitable, going where it is most needed, or earmarked for the K team as earlier mentioned. And you can claim your donation as part of your annual charitable giving.

  8. ESCRIP (That's "E Scrip")

    If you aren't doing this already this is a very passive easy way to get money to schools and organizations of all kinds.

    You go to, choose a worthy group or school from the monster list they have (including private schools). Then add your Safeway club card, credit cards etc. to your escrip account. Then whenever you use those cards, escrip automatically tracks donations from those companies toward your school and sends them quarterly. Each store or business gives its own set amount. So, for instance Safeway gives 3% of your purchases to your listed school or org. You don't do anything but your normal shopping, but meanwhile all these tiny amounts are adding up for the school.

    Then you sign up the grandparents and your childless siblings and friends too!

  9. Question. When you're donating time, say as a classroom helper, are you put with your child or a random class?

  10. the classroom time varies by school, but you can generally decide if you want to help in your child's class or wherever the greatest need is (and there is a huge need in libraries generally b/c they have to re-shelf, etc.).

    One thing kinders should know is most classrooms will have a policy of not coming into the class for the first two weeks of school for kinders - you get to say good-bye, etc. This is done to help the kids detatch and parents are warmly welcomed back in two weeks later. Some people are shocked when this happens, and there are always several kinder kids who are cyring, but it really does work and the teachers are warm and loving to your kids while they are adjusting (not that they aren't later) but most schools put any extra people they have in the kinder rooms to help the first two weeks.

  11. If a school has a PTA (part of the National Parent Teacher Association) then it is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductable

    However, some schools have chosen not to join PTA and are a PTO (an independent parent/teacher organization) may or may not have nonprofit status. Check with your school - but most, I believe, are independent nonprofits but you should get the tax id to make sure.

  12. My kids' school has a process for donating to your child's classroom, specifically called a "Room xx classroom fund donation" to distinguish it from the other money that the PTA asks families to give. Both are tax-deductible though because they are made through the PTA.

    I have always had mixed feelings about the inequities of these classroom funds. Because each classroom has a different mix of families, the size of the class funds are aften strikingly different, which doesn't seem fair. I wish that the classroom funds were put in a collective pool at grade level, because that would equalize the pot for every classroom in that grade. The issue had been raised at our school, but some teachers didn't want to change the way it was done and the topic was dropped.

    So, if you are just setting up a system for classroom funds, you might want to consider doing it communally by grade level.

  13. I actually thought PTA rules prohibited collecting money for individual classes. Is this not the case?

  14. Great Questions, thanks for asking this one.

  15. What is with all the people who say you shouldn't give the money to your own kid's classroom, but to only give it to the whole school, but that is what is most fair? There is nothing wrong with wanting to help your own child's classroom the most!! It's not like the donation is going to some wealthy organization, it is going to a public school classroom!

  16. Kids aren't usually tracked with the same class from K-5. Giving to only one room, not the entire grade sets up inequity. Fortunately most schools have procedure in place for grade level donations vs individual rooms.

    Otherwise, all the well to do people will want to be in the same class as that means more financial resources,which can buy materials, field trips, etc. While the poor folks will feel as if their kids are falling even further through the cracks.

    It's also short sighted because my kid will,at some point, be in the same class as a kid in a different room.

    If my child has more advantages in school, then is mixed with many kids who didn't have the same advantages, my kid will suffer because too many of the kids will be playing catch up.

    So it's enlightened self-interest to make sure all the kids across the grade level have access to the same resources.

    This is why the achievement gap concerns us all. The stronger we make the disadvantaged kids, the more time teachers can spend on challenging creative teaching. It's as the saying goes, a win-win.

  17. Hi Kate,

    You should also be aware of an agency called the San Francisco School Alliance (SFSA), of which I am a staff member. SFSA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency that was created by the SF Board of Edcuation to serve the needs of public schools in San Francisco. One of the things we do is offer fiscal sponsorship to facilitate efforts like yours that benefit the District in some capactiy, be it a teacher, a classroom, a grade level, a school, or the entire SFUSD. In your case, it probably makes sense just to donate to your PTA, but if you wanted to expand your efforts, you could create a temporary "program" whose mission was to bring needed supplies/resources to your child's school/classroom. Then you would make a donation to that "program" (via SFSA) which would already be set up to adminster the programs efforts, which in this case would be procuring supplies. As the person who created the program, you would make decision on where the donated money is spent. In this example, you tell us what supplies need to be purchased and we cut the check. We already do this for the "pet projects" of many concerned parents, teachers, principals, and funders. Size and scope vary tremendously. We do charge an administrative fee based upon the size of the work/budget (usually 10% or less), but it's another option for folks to consider when wanting to make a tax-deductible donation for homegrown efforts that benefit public education in San Francisco. Check out our website or give us a call to discuss further:

  18. Thank you Garrick for taking the time to share this info - I think you are addressing it to the guest poster rather than Kate, but I (as a mere reader) found it useful. I wonder if anyone (Caroline specifically) has any thoughts on the program. I will check out the website but it seems odd that they have not been referenced before. I guess they are most helpful for those schools with no PTA or nonprofit status - unless I am missing something?

  19. I know of SFSA and some programs funded by them, but I'm not familiar enough to comment. I think most private funders like this target schools with higher numbers of low-income students, which tends to correlate with schools without high-powered PTAs that raise a lot of money.

  20. Just to clarify, my post is applicable for anyone who wishes to make a tax-deductible donation to a school, such as Kate. As a 501(c)3 that exists solely to serve public education in SF, we will accept your donation and see that it is directed towards your intended purpose. And yes, this can be helpful when someone wants to donate to a school without a PTA; but even if there is an existing PTA, we are able to offer a lot more flexibility and support than they might be able to provide. As long as you have an idea that benefits the SFUSD in some capacity, we will help you see it through. Technically, we are not a grant-making organization, so we do not fund programs and the fundraising is on you. SFSA is only about 3 years old. Before 2005, we were referred to as the Every Child Can Learn Foundation. We are a close partner to the District, working closely with Superintendent Garcia and Dr. Tony Smith on priority intiatives such as their strategic plan and the principal leadership redesign effort.

  21. Frankly, I don't see the point in giving simply to your child's class, unless the school is really poor. In general, the teachers are not hurting for supplies (at least not at the public schools my wife taught at). But they can always use help.

    If everyone in the class (with a typical class size of 20 in K) gives $100/month, that's $2000 for the teacher. What is s/he going to do with that kind of money? Even if it's $500, that's more money than can be spent on supplies every month. And teachers can't go hiring people to help them out in class. But if the school ends up with say $10,000/month, that can go toward hiring helpers and specialists for the whole school, which would benefit your child. Or it could go toward something special on the grounds, or any number of things. Your child will be going through all the grades at the school, and you'd like the whole place to be in good condition, and all the kids at the school to be well cared for and well behaved.

  22. Frankly!

    Field trips can be expensive if you book your class to go into an offsite classroom - about $200-$300 per 20 students at a place like Coyote Point Museum. Not to mention the price of transportation if you book a bus.
    Cooking supplies.
    Art supplies such as feathers or clay or beads.
    Beautiful children's books to that flesh out your collection in the science and social studies topics you cover or even that your current students have become interested in.
    Games, made by educational companies.

    ...these are all expensive.

    I bought lots of software. I bought some storage units.

    I spent about 2,000 per year out of my pocket when I was teaching. Easy. I just kept throwing my receipts in a file folder and writing my name in permanent marker on everything. Because, my intent was to take it all with me if I ever changed schools.

    When I moved on...I did end up passing it all on to the teacher who moved in to my classroom. Boy, was she ever set!

    And, I was teaching at a private school!!!

  23. How about starting an SFUSD endowment fund? Is that a possibility?

  24. ^^Thanks!!