Financial Literacy for Everyone

Making School Donations Count

Elementary and secondary school parents across the country are being asked to shell out increasing amounts of money to help strapped school districts close the gap in face of budget cuts. In a recent survey of school districts, 43 percent of respondents reported budget cuts of 10 percent or less for this academic year, and 21 percent reported cuts of 11 to 25 percent, according to the American Association of School Administrators. At a time when many families are struggling financially, coming up with extra funds for school is a challenge. What are some things parents can do to support schools without overextending themselves? Here are a few ideas:

1. Share your time and expertise. Volunteering time in the classroom can be an excellent way for parents to get involved in their child's education while supporting educators. If you'd like to take classroom volunteer time to the next level, it's a good idea to speak to your child's teacher or a school administrator about specific programs in need of support. Perhaps funding for the art program is suffering and you know a few local artists who may be interested in volunteering their time, or the school is in need of sports equipment and you may be able to get discounted equipment through a family member's workplace.

2. Fundraise. Bake sales and car washes are a relatively easy way to earn money for school trips, supplies and programs. This simple site (http://www.fundraiserinsight.org/groups/schoolfundraisers.html) has tips and links to sites with a variety of fundraising ideas. In many cases, steering away from fundraising via products or candy sales and toward those like Scrip and walkathons, which have other benefits (such as exercise), will be more appealing to other parents and families. Festivals, field days, bake sales, pancake breakfasts and raffles are a few other popular ideas.

3. Team Up. When it comes to supporting schools, combining efforts with other parents is a smart way to make the biggest impact. Together, you can work with teachers and school administrators to determine schools' and teachers' greatest areas of need, and then devise solutions for meeting them. Joining your local PTA is a good place to start. There is also a national organization called Parents for Public Schools (http://www.parentsforpublicschools.org) that works to improve and strengthen local public schools through policy changes and other efforts at the local, state and national levels.

4. Decide What to Support. Which areas of your child's school would you most like to support? Are you a proponent of art in schools and want to ensure the art program remains intact despite budget cuts? While asking your school about its greatest areas of need is smart, knowing which programs you feel are most critical can help boost your motivation to become involved in fundraising or other forms of support. This could mean planning a fundraiser to benefit the band, or volunteering your time to teach painting to other students at the school.

5. Budget Smart. Knowing how much you can or must contribute to your child's school is an important part of making donations without overtaxing yourself financially. If you plan to spend $500 over the school year, consider how much you should be setting aside each month in order to reach your goal. Spreading out your contributions can help you ensure that fall classroom fees or donations don't pack a punch at a time when you need to purchase other back-to-school items. This Saving for a Goal calculator can help. (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/calculators/calculate/savingForAGoal.php?calcCategory=budget)

Being asked to contribute to school expenses puts a new financial strain on parents during a time when many families are already struggling. Yet looking at the big picture of your budget and creating a plan can make it easier to support your area school's and educator's needs. Is there a better cause than helping fund your child's education?

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