Transcription of the episode “Exacerbating inequality: Private money in public schools”

Amy H-L: [00:00:15] I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. 

Jon M: [00:00:16] And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Dr. Sue Winton, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. Winton’s research focuses on the interplay between educational policy and the democratic commitment to equity and social justice. Today, we’ll be speaking about fundraising in public schools and how it aligns with the neoliberal narrative. Welcome, Sue!

Sue W: [00:00:41] Hi, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Amy H-L: [00:00:45] What are some of the ways in which private money comes into public schools? 

Sue W: [00:00:51] Well, it comes in a lot of different ways. Some of the most familiar ways probably, for some of your listeners, would be directly through parents. Sometimes that schools may just ask parents for contributions to pay for something ,it’s educational, like a class trip, or maybe it’s to support a speaker.

On the other hand, parents are sometimes asked to raise money for what some people might characterize as a nice to have, so maybe some extra technology for our computer lab or a new outdoor garden. And in those cases, sometimes parents are asked to write a check, but oftentimes there are different kinds of events that might be held as fundraisers to bring in the money.

So common kinds of events would be like a pizza lunch. So, you know, every other Friday it’s pizza . There may be events for adults only so like an evening social, that could be one way. In some places in Alberta, out West and here in Canada, they are, there are casino nights. So where  parent volunteers from a school, they can help work the casino that evening and then get some profits from the casino.

Another way that parents sometimes contribute is through paying for these, so it might be a fee for a specialized program.  For example, if there’s a specialized athletic program in a school, there might be a fee for joining a gym or for the classes or… There’s a school out West where it’s a golf academy and students have to pay for the membership to the golf club, not to mention the green fees as well as the clubs.

And so another way that private money comes into public schools is through donors in the private sector. Donors might make a donation to a school. Again, it might be for something that is really useful, like to pay for a breakfast program or some kinds of sporting equipment that those students can use. So there’s that sort of direct donation.

 There’s also sponsorships. Again, it could be, I mean, some schools might opt sponsorship, some might opt donation, where in exchange for some money, a business would receive some kind of profile someplace in the school. So I’d say those are probably, those are the ones that come first to mind.

I mean that again, there are other indirect ways. Through companies, for example, might volunteer some time or donate materials and so forth into a school. So those are a different kind of resource other than cash resource, but nevertheless are private resources in public schools. 

Jon M: [00:03:18] So what are some of the implications of the ways that private money impacts what happens in the school? What are some of the consequences?

Sue W: [00:03:26] Yeah. So there’s a lot of potential impacts. I feel like I’ve got to write them down or I may lose track, but I think one of the biggest, in my view, concerns is that because different schools have different abilities to raise money or to bring money into the schools. What that means is schools have different abilities then to offer opportunities to the students that attend those schools. So, you know, to put it just quite directly, schools that can bring in more money can offer their  students more and perhaps better resources, opportunities. And I know in some places in the US, that can include human resources, including teachers, so there might just be, you know, better computers, maybe more field trips. So just more of some things than what other students would receive, or be able to access, in schools that aren’t able to bring in as much money.

And I’m sure this won’t be, isn’t a big surprise to many people that the schools that can bring in the most money are often located either in the neighborhoods that are already quite affluent or at the very least they have families who are themselves affluent. So often what you see is the kids with the greatest resource schools are also the kids who have access to a lot of extra opportunities and exciting opportunities outside of schools. So there’s a difference in terms of access to opportunities within the public school. 

So there’s that piece about just things that people might access, but in terms of opportunities, I just want to talk about, with the fees that are associated with specialized programs and so on, again, obviously, if a parent can’t pay, then the student might not be able to attend the program, but also talk a little bit about some of the specialized programs, for example, like the athletic program. So we have a lot of, some of those in our school systems here, or specialized arts programs where students need to audition or compete for a spot in those schools.

There’s not enough for everybody. And so then. People who of course are most likely to be able to access those programs or to compete successfully, again, are the people whose parents have been able to provide them with opportunities to play sports outside of school, or to take dance lessons outside of schooling.

And so it’s sort of, it kind of builds on it and on itself. So if these particular schools they offer. I mean, they’re only available to those who can pay fees. They’re available to those who can compete for positions. So again, we have lots of questions about access, so access to resources, access to opportunities and types of schooling.

There’s also the issue about parents themselves. There’s been research done by Lynn Posey Maddox in the United States, she’s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she’s looked at parents who become involved with school councils, which are typically, although not always, places where parents raise money.

They’re not only fundraising bodies in some places. In some places they’re also maybe serve an advisory role to the local school administration. In any case, what she has found out is that there are parents, sometimes parents who cannot contribute financially. Either directly or writing grants, which is, again, another way private money comes into schools that I forgot to mention.

So if they’re not able to contribute in that way, those parents feel that the ways that they are able to contribute, which might be something like going along on a class trip or reading to children in the classroom, that those ways of contributing are less valued. So there’s a consequence in terms of how the parents may feel in terms of their relationship with the school.

There’s also the question about if parents don’t want to or cannot contribute to fundraising, they might then choose to stay away from the school council, might not participate, and which means they lose opportunities, both to get to know the administrators and other school-based staff that sit on those councils, they lose the opportunity to perhaps to participate in decision-making in those bodies, both in terms of how fundraised money is spent as well as the other kinds of decisions that might be made about the school, about academics and so on, which those boards advise on. So there’s those kinds of impacts on some parents.

But I think ultimately, well, not ultimately, but in addition to, some of the very fundamentals of what in my view makes a school public, and that is that it’s funded adequately by the state. I think what fundraising does, and other ways of bringing private money in, is it comes to normalize the idea that this is part of parents’ responsibilities and less that it’s not the state’s responsibility to fully fund education, or if it is it’s to fund some sort of bare bones version, but everything else is up to parents and the private sector. So it really starts to shift the ways that  schools get their funding and the way that people start to think that governments should behave in regards to funding. 

Amy H-L: [00:08:17] I lived in Arizona for awhile and there was something called an override. So the state would pass a budget. And then the cities that could afford it had almost like an assessment. It was called an override. And so essentially these small wealthy cities could raise their own taxes to fund their schools.

Sue W: [00:08:43] Oh, I see. Okay. So that reminds me of a couple of things. If I may just kind of pick up on that I’m in Ontario. Not sure I said that I’m in Ontario, Canada, and we used to have a sort of funding system where individual municipalities, the property tax, would fund schools. And so if schools needed more money, they would raise property taxes. But in the late 1990s, that funding model was changed. And so now the government determines, first of all, how much property tax are, or at least the education portion, and then collects it all into the province and then redistributes it. So it used to be the case that there were school districts and so on that, through property taxes, could increase the amount of money they brought in. And I’m not exactly sure if that’s sort of the same of what you’re talking about, the override in Arizona, but actually what I thought you were going to say, which I, which I will say since you didn’t, was that some schools and school boards have what they often call a waiver. So a way for parents or families or families who are unable to pay fees can ask for a waiver so that they don’t have to pay the fees and that their children can still access the resources and opportunities that the fees would pay for. And what I wanted to point out about that was that there is some research that demonstrates both in Canada and in the US that first of all, a lot of times, parents and teachers don’t know how, first of all, they don’t know that the waivers exist or if they do, they don’t know how to access them.

 But furthermore, a lot of people don’t want to access the waivers, because what that requires, of course, is for them to self identify as being unable to pay, and that’s not something that a lot of people want to do. And furthermore, in my view, a waiver, sort of an opt out system of paying really ignores the stigma that comes along with identifying as being of lower income, or perhaps just struggling financially. It may be that somebody from a different income bracket is going through tough times and they don’t want that to be known to the school. So anyway, Amy, your comment took me in a couple of different directions that I think they’re all still on focus.

Jon M: [00:10:57] Actually. I wanted to ask you a follow-up about the waiver. I can clearly see why people would be reluctant to ask for that, even if they know about it. But one of the things often that parents associations do, in terms of raising funds, is that sometimes principals will have discretionary funds, for example, to pay for winter clothing, for example, for children who don’t have it. And obviously this is kind of something that doesn’t fall within the strict definition of a school’s function, but in reality, schools often are a central resource for people. So I’m just curious, what have you run into in terms of things like discretionary funds, whether this is related to the idea of the waiver? Whether, I mean, I can’t imagine a parent saying to the principal, ” Hey, my kid needs winter clothes. Can you provide it?” What have you seen in terms of these kinds of issues? 

Sue W: [00:12:00] Uh, I don’t know how principals necessarily come up with a discretionary fund, that I’m not sure if they’re board allocated, if they come in from other other means.

I don’t know, but thinking about discretionary funds, that makes me think about some grants and so on and other ways that people, that schools fundraise and then what they might use those fundraised dollars for. So in Ontario, for example, we have what I’d characterize as fairly loose guidelines around fundraising, what can be fundraised for by school councils and what can not be. And the rules are that you can’t fund for learning materials. So then what that means is that they, so let’s say you use the example of playground equipment and balls for the playground, just as an example, what that might mean then is that that particular school is able to fundraise a lot. Those school principals can spend the discretionary funds on whatever they want, whatever it is, maybe it’s coats, maybe it’s something else, whatever they want, because they’ve got the school council money to be able to pay for all of the nice to haves, all those fund-raised dollars, right. Whereas we have another school where the school isn’t able to fundraise. That principal then might be in a position to have to use all their funds, discretionary funds, on everything they might like for the school, both learning materials, as well as, you know, the balls for the playground or the kinds of things that the fundraised  dollars, what would have otherwise paid for it. So in regards to fundraising the schools, that can bring in more. Actually what that does is create more room for principals to use the funds as they wish, as opposed to having to cover all the expenses that the school might incur.

 It also makes me think a little bit about if you think about discretionary versus not discretionary, is that fact that there are like the city of Toronto and the Toronto district school board. It’s the country’s largest school board. And I think it’s in the top five across North America, for sure, in terms of size or at least it was last time I checked. They  track closely the dollars that are brought in, fund-raised dollars.

And a few years ago I was aware of a report that they produced that showed that again, like I said before, you know, no surprise, schools that were located in more affluent areas or had more affluent parents, they fundraised more than the schools that didn’t. However, what this report did was they said, okay., yeah, but schools that serve more low income neighborhoods or families with lower incomes, they qualify for more grants to cover different kinds of expenses. And so what they did then was they said, okay, well, let’s look at all the money that comes into the schools and see what happens when you consider all these grants, these extra grants. And, you know, if you look just at a graph, what you see is like, as a line, it’s not quite horizontal, but it sort of suggests that those grants offset differences that are brought in by fundraising dollars. However, and this gets to the point about discretion is that those grants often can only be spent in particular kinds of ways.

So they have to be spent, you know, maybe on particular prescribed academic programs or maybe on social services or social supports that that grant provides. So here’s an example where you see the schools that have more money, they can use those fundraising dollars for whatever they want within these loose guidelines. As I said, whereas the schools that are receiving the additional income through grants are much more limited in how they’re able to spend the money.

Amy H-L: [00:15:34] You’ve connected private money in schools to the larger idea of privatization, for example, privatization of national parks, or even our prisons. Could you expand on that?

Sue W: [00:15:48] Sure. Well, I think privatization is the concept is an idea, a trend. We want to look at it that has multiple components. So one way of thinking about privatization in public education is the idea, and this is from Ball and Udall and other theorists as well. These are not all my ideas. The idea that privatization in education, where ideas and practices of the private sector get brought into public education. 

So for example, the idea of a user fee, that’s very common in private sector, right. If you want the free Dropbox, you can have it, but if you want more storage, something better, you’re going to have to pay for it. And that’s sort of an idea that’s borrowed from the private sector. There’s the idea of privatization of public education. So that’s where the private sector is able to actually financially benefit from participating in the public sector. So for example, I often think about this Scholastic book fair as an example. Um, one example among many where that’s a fundraising campaign that’s really popular in across Canada. And I believe in the USA as well, where basically, you know, families buy books, they send the money into the school. If the school does the administration of that book fair, dollars and ordering, then the parents receive the books. The school receives some books or other kinds of resources for the school. And then of course what’s not often discussed in this scenario is of course that Scholastic, or the companies they represent, they get a profit. So they profit from this fundraising initiative that happens in the school. So that would be an example of privatization of, sometimes I get it mixed up , but I think the idea being the [inaudible], the private sector, making money from participating in the public sector, public schools in particular.

But there’s also another sort of element of privatization, and that is the privileging of private interests. In this case, I’m talking about individuals or parents, families, interests within a public education system. So, whereas of course, education, public education does and always has had both private interests in terms of no one’s ability to shape one’s potential or to get, find work, maybe social mobility, but there is also public interest as well, so serving those interests of the collective. And I think that privatization, and variant of it is when we see that the private benefits and the pursuit of those private benefits are really overtaking and tipping the balance above and beyond what the collective interest.

Jon M: [00:18:30] You know, it’s interesting, as you were talking about the Scholastic book sales, it made me think of another probably universal fundraising thing, school photos. Everybody wants pictures of their kids. So there’s this huge industry. And it’s interesting because you wouldn’t necessarily think about, you know, school budgets, supporting school photos. But on the other hand, I don’t know. I’m just thinking about it. That it’s a big industry focusing on what parents want. It’s something that brings in, relatively speaking, especially for lower income schools that aren’t also making, where the parents associations aren’t also making a lot of money off of other things. It’s a central form of fundraising along with, for example, candy sales, things like that. So it’s just interesting. I’m mean I’m not sure what the answer is to that because people want pictures of their kids and it’s something that brings in money to the school, but it just made me think of it as you were talking about Scholastic. 

Sue W: [00:19:39] Yeah. You know, it’s funny, even though I’ve been thinking about fundraising for a really long time, I didn’t really think about school photos as a kind of fundraising, but yes, of course it is. And your comment reminds me of how a few years ago, I have three kids and I don’t know about how it works, where you are, the school photos you’re thinking about. But for us, we receive a package of about like, 50 photos, per kid, all different sizes. And I know we have so many photos that we take on our phone and I said to my partner, “You know,  do we really need to buy these photos? We have so many photos and besides, so many of them are better.” And they said to me, “Well, what kind of parent doesn’t buy their kids’ photos?” And thinking about that, which is what you made me think about, Jon,  was reminded me about with fundraising in general. It, the kind of question of, you know, what kind of parent doesn’t participate or another question it makes me think of, you know, why do parents participate sort of on the other, the flip side of it. And furthermore, why do sometimes parents participate, even if they don’t want to, which I’ve certainly found myself bumping up against that question.

Like you said, my kids want pizza, lunch. They want to have this special opportunity. And then I’m like, well, I don’t really believe in it. But on the other hand, I don’t want my child to miss out. They’ll be the only one. But furthermore, I think what it ties to that, that feeling of like, This is what a good parent does really ties to broader ideas around what makes a good parent.

And I think this connecting, I think right now, uh, certainly for a lot of parents in like in the West, this idea that a good parent, right? It does whatever they possibly can to make sure that their child is successful. And I think that ties to ideas more broadly that, you know, it’s up to the individual or in this case individual, it’s the parents that will be their families.

If it’s they’re responsible for their own success, you know, it’s this idea of meritocracy, the idea of that, those that work hard get benefits. But the flip side of that is therefore that people who are also responsible for their failure. And, you know, if you don’t do well, then it’s because you’re, it’s your fault. I think what is absent from all of that kind of framing about what it means to be a good parent or what it means to be successful is the social realities that people live in and all the rules that let this, the power relations play in this in society and prejudices and discrimination. All of that is erased when you start talking about it’s up to the individual to be successful or to ensure the success of their child. So it’s a bit of a leap, perhaps it might seem too far away from this idea of what kind of parent doesn’t buy their school photos. But I think it’s really tied into this idea that we are responsible if we’re told, we’re set up to believe that we’re responsible, whether it’s to make the best choice for the school, whether it’s to support our child, to have opportunities to go to these specialized programs that, you know, really though, what isn’t that what every good parent would do. Yeah. That’s really important.

Jon M: [00:22:43] And as you’re talking about photos, it struck me that when my kids were in school, which, you know, they’re now in their forties, mostly people didn’t take huge numbers of photos of their kids just everyday, because you had to have a camera and you had to do all this. And so there’s obviously been changes over time, of people are taking photos on their smartphones or whatever. So that the kind of question you’re saying, well, I already have lots of pictures, but what it brings me to is, and this ties in with the more, but maybe more significant point you were making is have you noticed a change or I don’t know if this is something you’ve studied, whether there’s been a change in the focus on fundraising as there’s been a decrease, at least in the States, in public funding of schools. So that the image of parent fundraising, which goes back probably to the beginning of PTA’s and the bake sale, is the idea, okay, you bake your cookies or your brownies or whatever, and everybody’s there and you raise a little bit of money. But now, in a sense, it’s becoming a big business because the public part of the funding has gone down. And so I was thinking of that as you were talking, about the pressure on parents to make up for it. I mean, and here I’m, I’m really asking you a question. Have you seen increases in the pressures for parent fundraising as a correlation of the decrease in the public support for schools?

Sue W: [00:24:20] The short answer to that I’d say is yes, there seems to be a relationship. I haven’t looked at it statistically. So the researcher in me is hesitant to say correlation, but relationship, absolutely. And that a lot of that, the data that I would look to for that, comes from an organization in Ontario. So I’ll speak about in Ontario in general, but I don’t think that Ontario is an exception. And this group, called People for Education, has been tracking the amount that is brought in through fundraisings over the last, oh, I’d say since the late 1990s, which is the time when in Ontario, there was a shift that I think I mentioned earlier, in funding. It wasn’t just how schools were to be funded, but also there was a decrease in the amount that schools were going to be funded. So yes, there was a decrease. So at that particular time, that’s when there seemed to be a shift from that fundraising to pay for what some people would say, like a tea, a graduation tea, or some something sort of small scale, into something becoming larger. And more so greater, both in terms of amounts being raised, but also how it’s become part of the system.

 And one of the ways that’s become like really systematized in Ontario is that now school councils have to report how much they fundraise, because technically they’re a body of the school district. So they have to report to the school district and this school district that has to report it every year as part of their income. So it’s really become entrenched in the funding of schools. So yes, I would say that fundraising has increased in order to make up gaps that  that have become greater as school funding, public funding, has been reduced. 

But there’s also another reason I think we see increased fundraising, which is related. For us, there was a shift in how schools were funded in that now schools receive funding for, it’s technically school districts, but ultimately schools on a per pupil basis. So if I move schools, the amount that’s attached to me that like 5,000 or $10,000 or whatever it is that the government attaches to the costs, to fundraise for me to be educated. When I move schools so does that money. So then, that’s part of how, going back to the idea of privatization within education. So this move towards setting up education systems, like a marketplace, like the private sector, where schools that are now competing for students, fundraising is another way to make your school more desirable than another school, perhaps because you can offer more resources or more opportunities or things that at your school that another school can’t.

So I think that it also has maybe through the school counselor, parent council route, but through the route of specialized programs where we’ve seen a really big increase in these specialized programs that have a dollar attached to them. So there’s that piece. So there’s the additional fees, but then there’s the idea you want to attract  the student to your school because then the funding follows the student.

So there’s a number of changes that have happened over the last 20 years. And I also want to point out that the group that tracks the amount in Ontario, what they notice, it’s not just that dollars are going up, but rather the differences between say the amounts that the top schools can raise and the amounts that the schools that raised the least, the gap between those amounts is widening as well, so we see that.

If I could just go back for a minute, I just reminded myself of something. When I was talking about gaps between, there’s also been some work done here in the Toronto area by some investigative journalists that show how even school districts are raising vastly different amounts of money through school fundraising. And again, those gaps can be quite significant, but it’s not just like a school district in Toronto as opposed to a school district in another city, I’m talking about school districts that are side-by-side, you know, literally across the street from each other, or even in some cases, since we have a publicly funded Catholic school system as well, there may be two school systems that are serving the same communities that are raising different amounts of money through fundraising, and that’s been shown out. And so then, partly again, coming back to fundraising, it’s not just schools that are competing for students. It’s also boards or school districts that are competing. And sometimes that happens on literally the very same geographies.

Jon M: [00:28:43] Wow. You’ve talked before about efforts in Canada to create alternatives to individual school fundraising, to try to equalize things. What have these been and how have they work? What are some of the obstacles? What are some of the successes?

Sue W: [00:29:00] Yes, there have been, I’ll speak about the Toronto District School Board. Not to call it out as somehow exceptional; it’s just the one that I know best because it’s where I live. But also in part, because they do make a lot of data publicly available that other school boards don’t. So I think it’s brave that they do that. So I want to recognize that they do that. At the same time, it makes sense that they’re a little more subject to critique as a consequence. But yes, they had, and I believe they still have, but it’s relatively inactive is my understanding, a fund where a school could donate either part of the portions of their fundraise dollars to the centralized fund, and then the centralized fund at the district would then redistribute the money that within that fund to schools that could use it and maybe were unable to fundraise for themselves. However, that fund has not had a lot of energy. If I look back at some of the accounts of the debates over that fundraising fund, you know, trustees express that they didn’t think that families would actually give money to another school, right, that they in fact wanted just to keep the money for themselves. And I’ve actually also seen that, just on a smaller scale, in the sense I spoke one time with somebody who was running a book fair, you know, as part of my research. I talked to people who do take on different roles within fundraising. And this person told me that they had done a book fair in the school a number of times, and that what they did one time was that they were aware– I think that’s fair to say, it’s not that a lot of people I’ve talked to about fundraising are unaware of some of the issues that are involved. It’s just, it’s not enough to change their behavior in a significant kind of way. But in any case, what they told me was that one year they decided to have a box beside the cash register that said you can donate, you know, buy a book for yourself, buy a book for another school that can’t afford to buy one. And  they told me that that was not a successful campaign, that people just didn’t do it, but nevertheless, this particular school, the next time around, what they did, of course, they made a ton of money on the book fair and what they actually wanted to do again, they still felt concerned about giving it to another school. So they actually spoke with  the rep from Scholastic and said, can we give some of this money to another school? But we don’t want anyone to know. They just didn’t tell the parents of their own school community, because they felt that they, from the last time they knew that the school community wouldn’t agree to it. Which of course itself raises all kinds of ethical questions about, you know, should they really be doing that? So moving this money around parents think it’s going to this school. So it’s, you know, it’s really unleashed a lot of different kinds of behaviors.

But just to go back to your question. Some kinds of overt efforts at cooperative fundraising and redistribution have not seemed to be overly effective. Now I know they exist in other places beyond Ontario, but my understanding and the places that I’ve looked at, in places in the United States, for example, where they’ve adopted them, there might be like, well, the first $10,000 you get to keep, and then after that a portion, just a portion, goes toward some sort of centralized fund. So think that it is that better than nothing at all, or does it discourage those families, those schools, from collecting more than $10,000? I don’t know. That’s a question to be investigated.

Amy H-L: [00:32:12] So looking at the big picture here, does all this fundraising reflect an ambivalence towards education as a public good altogether?

I’m not sure, but I’d probably lay it on the side of, I don’t think so. Like I’ll say in Canada and  I’ll speak for Canadians, public school systems are very strongly supported in terms of people sending their children to public schools, and there hasn’t been a lot of movement around that. Like in Ontario, I believe it’s less than 10% goes either homeschooled or sends their children to private schools. I think that there’s a strong support. However, I want to just put a caveat to that though. I think part of the reason that public school remains as strongly supported as it has is because I do think that within the public system, we have seen more opportunities for private interests or private benefits to be accrued. So it’s partly, in my view, because the public system has become more private. Like through specialized schools, through these, for service kinds of policies, that that support remains. Because it is possible for families who are looking for ways to secure advantages for their own children over other children, there are lots of ways that you can do that within the public system still.

And I also think that again, maybe this isn’t true everywhere, but I do think that in Ontario, there is a pride in public education. Some of my other research has looked at debates about public funding of private schools, so sort of public money going to private, vouchers, looking at money going the other way. And you know, there are certainly are provinces within Canada that fund private schools with public money, but in Ontario, that idea has not had any traction. I mean, it comes up every five to 10 years, that idea, and it doesn’t doesn’t generate enough support to have tipped the balance. So that happens.

So I would have to say, is there an overall ambivalence towards public education? I think people like the idea of it, and I think they want to support the idea of it. But I think that in terms of what they hope to get out of, it might favor the private benefits in a way that may be different from how they might’ve been chased in the past within that public system.

Jon M: [00:34:32] So given everything that you’ve been saying, especially this kind of resistance to eliminate parent fundraising, do you have thoughts on what some of the best ways forward are for people who want to minimize the negative effects, given that it seems unlikely that it can be eliminated completely and just have something where it’s just totally adequate funding for public schools and people say, “Oh, I don’t need to contribute anything.” I mean, what would you recommend? And I know this isn’t necessarily as a research thing, but as a parent or whatever, what do you think people who are really upset by this might want to focus on?

Sue W: [00:35:13] Well again, I mean, I have to say that I, my long-term view would be to get rid of school fundraising and fees, although I know that’s not your question. I still feel like I…

Jon M: [00:35:22] My question… Do you think that we could just focus on that and make that the demand? Or do you think that there needs to be intermediate things, recognizing that that’s a long way off?

Sue W: [00:35:31] I do think that there’s some things people can do in the short term to maybe mitigate the negative impacts lightly. But I think it’s not, they’re only really prolonging something that I think is ultimately problematic. So I think my long game, but I hope it’s not too long, just to get rid of parent fundraising. And instead, like I said, I’d like to see parents put some of their energies that they put towards fundraising, into advocating for fully funded public education.

 I mean, I’m sympathetic though, to those folks with school principals who serve communities that have needs that are not being met by public funding. And so what are they to do for example? Or what if some of their families can, and this supports fundraising, and others cannot. And yet again, the school needs the funding.

So one thing, for example, I’ve seen in a local school that they have, I got a pizza lunch. It’s not a big fundraiser, but it’s a big deal in their school and they don’t want to get rid of it. So what they do is they send home a note to everyone and says, what kind of pizza do you want on Friday? And then separate from that, they send home an envelope that says if you can contribute to pizza lunch, please send in money in this envelope, and the envelope and the order forms are completely separate. So everybody gets the pizza. It’s not that only those that pay that get the pizza, for example. That is very small, but ways of thinking about that sliding scale or having opt in as opposed to opt out in terms of fundraising. But those are just very like localized, kind of in the moment, sort of things.

 I mean, I think, okay, let’s think about school council, you want to speak? If I go back to the point about families being excluded or feeling excluded or taking themselves out of participating in school decision-making bodies because they don’t want to fundraise. So something that can happen there is where those, for example, the school councils can decide to have a fundraising committee that does their work separately so that people who don’t want to fundraise don’t have to participate in it.

Or if I’m a principal or an administrator of some kind, I can seek advice perhaps from those parents who don’t participate through the channels like school council or fundraising happens because I know that some people stay away from school council because they don’t want to be associated with fundraising. So something I can do is then make sure that I include other voices in decision-making about how fundraised dollars or other dollars are spent. And that’s something that, an idea that a principal had told me that that’s what they do. They have a budget committee that’s separate from the school council.

And so they invite parents to participate in the budget committee that aren’t necessarily on the school council committee. So it’s another way of sort of addressing some of the more harmful facts of school fundraising. But again, my long game is I think we need to get rid of that and we need to fully fund public education.

And it’s not just a question of taking parents out of the equation and just filling the gap with other private resources through companies or donations from foundations or other kinds of private sources. But rather that we have fully funded public education systems paid for by the public.

Amy H-L: [00:38:33] Sue, you’ve done a lot of research on Toronto schools. When we interviewed Pedro Noguera, he said that he thought of all the major North American cities, Toronto had come closest to getting education right. What do you think Toronto gets right? And what more would you like to see it do?

Sue W: [00:38:57] Well, what I think Toronto gets right, is sort of relates back to what I said a few minutes ago, is that it collects data and it makes the data known. They follow a lot of the consequences of the decisions that they make. They see what’s happening in schools. They do student census about sense  of belonging. They look at how outcomes, both like social emotional as well as academic outcomes. They break them down by various kinds of identity groups. They make the information public, they have a longstanding commitment to more equitable schools and to pursuing equity. I think that is something that they do right. They acknowledge that their problems, of course, we’re in a society that is rampant  with social issues, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, you know, anti-Indigenous sentiments. That is part of the society that we live in. Toronto’s in that society. The TDSB, the Toronto District School Board, is part of that society. So they recognize that. But nevertheless, did they make it where they don’t try to pretend it doesn’t exist now, did that get it all right? No, they don’t, but they, so, for example, one of the things that’s happening right now is they’ve just piloted a few years ago, and now it’s becoming mainstream, is to get rid of streaming  in grade nine. So whereas we used to have that in grade eight, students had to decide what stream they were going to go into in grade nine, so a  more academic stream or a less academic stream, but clearly the research that the TDSB has done to collect on who’s going into what streams, it’s clear that racialized students and some groups, particular groups within racialized groups, are more likely to be in the lower academic streams than others. So they started a pilot and I believe it’s going across the city. They’re not having their D stream in grade nine. So that’s an example where I think that, you know, they’re trying, there’s a lot of resistance, not just from families, but from teachers and a lot of places to that kind of thing, but they’re pushing through with that.

So I think there a commitment, their awareness that there’s problems, but that they have a long way to go as well, but that they’re taking on different kinds of initiatives, I think speaks to some of the things that they’re getting right. Sometimes, I think it’s true, that we it’s easy to think about what things are going wrong. But I do think that there are a lot of good people in a lot of places trying to do right. And I think some of those people are in Toronto.

Jon M: [00:41:16] Thank you. Dr. Sue Winton of York University.

Amy H-L: [00:41:19] And thank you, listeners. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend or colleague. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give us a rating or review. This helps others to find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles and to subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make  it easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to offer customized SEL programs, with a focus on ethics, for schools and youth programs in the New York City and San Francisco Bay areas. Contact us at We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ethicalschools. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Until next week.

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