by Katharine Strange
Many families who attend our Kids & Race workshops come away inspired to make changes in their community but are unsure what steps to take. Personal reflection, talking with friends and family about racial issues, attending protests, and writing to representatives are all great ways to make positive contributions toward racial equity. But one of the biggest areas where we can have an impact is in our public schools.
Seattle Public Schools (like most districts across America) are racially segregated. Schools in the north end, and those close to the water, tend to be majority white and wealthy, while schools in the south end tend to be majority people of color and low-income. The district tries to ease the income disparities with increased per-student funding in low-income schools (including Title 1 funds) but these funds don’t compete against advantages that wealthy families bring to school, including the hundreds of thousands of dollars that wealthy PTAs provide their schools. (For context, the wealthier PTAs in Seattle have budgets somewhere in the ballpark of $400k-500k, the poorer schools will have budgets of $0-500)
We all want what’s best for our kids. Our kids deserve to have safe, quality schooling where they are supported academically and social-emotionally. They should have fun, too. I’m not faulting parents for donating to improve their kids’ schools. However, this is an equity issue. Seattle has the 5th worst opportunity gap between Black and White students in the nation, and the worst in Washington state. And a lot of that has to do with parental resources. Because of the way our district is segregated, resources like volunteer hours, money, and personal connections are hoarded for our white, wealthy students.
What’s a parent or concerned community member to do? Join your neighborhood school’s PTA. Don’t have a kid at that school? No problem! ANYONE is allowed to join ANY PTA. You could even join multiple PTAs, if you want to support a low-income school outside of your neighborhood. Once you fill out your application and pay your membership fee (usually around $10-15 per year) you are a voting member of the PTA.
Once you join, take some time to ask questions.
Does your PTA have an equity team?
What are the opportunity gaps in your school between white students and students of color? Greatschools.org has school test scores broken down by race.
If your PTA is wealthy, do you share funds with low-income schools? If not, why not?
If your school is low-income, in what areas does it need support? How can you volunteer, donate, or use your connections to support the school?
Are their people of color in your school’s leadership? What percentage of teachers are people of color?
(One note, if you are a wealthy white parent joining a PTA that is led by people of color, listen to the parents who are already there. Respect their priorities and potentially different communication styles, don’t steamroll people of color in the name of efficiency. Consider yourself in a supporting role.)
We have a tremendous amount of power to shape our public schools at a local level. The positive changes we make will have a life-long impact on students. While we can’t do everything, we can all do something to make our city more equitable.
For some additional background on PTA fundsharing, check out this article from KUOW.