I’m a parent of a Milwaukee Public School child. This is a choice that I made because I believe in the city of Milwaukee and I believe in public education. This year, I am also an officer at my school’s PTA. For those who aren’t familiar with how a PTA works, they are an advocacy group for children. They’re traditionally established at a school, but they’re an outside organization, just like a scouting troupe or other organization that meets in a school. They are typically registered as a 501(c)3 tax exempt entity. They provide programming for children and families, and function under their bylaws, which are recognized by the school.
A public school is a government unit filled with government employees and overseen by a number of standards–but most policy decisions come from the elected School Board.
In the mid 1990s, the School Board passed a policy regarding fundraising of outside parent groups, Administrative Policy 7.22. The policy is very vague, and there are multiple interpretations of how it should be applied, and different school principals have read it in different ways. (Also, keep in mind, it wasn’t until this year that some bureaucrat decided this policy needed to be enforced.) In some schools, the principal is saying it limits parent groups to 2 fundraisers per school year.
This policy raises two important Constitutional issues: Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.
The PTA is an outside association. Its own policies frown upon using children as entrepreneurs–which would seem to be the intent of the policy. But if a parent group sells hotdogs at an open house, and sells t-shirts with school logos on it, even though no child is doing anything–the school will count that as two fundraisers and prohibit any further fundraising. So, if I wanted to have a restaurant night fundraiser (where typically they donate a percentage of the receipts to the PTA), even if I don’t use any school resources, it would violate the policy. The new enforcement of this policy by the district could cut some PTA budgets by 75%–severely impacting their ability to get their message out, while at the same time interfering in the legal activities of a private association.
It is very clear that the solution is the the School Board to address this policy and ensure that the policy does not run afoul of the first amendment. Protecting children from having to do fundraising is a worthwhile goal, but the current enforcement of the policy is harmful to children. It shows disregard for our laws, and it inhibits the parents from doing their job as part of an advocacy organization. In a district that already has so many budgetary shortfalls, it is absurd to push a policy that takes away resources from an organization that funds student activities, scholarships, and is the front line in one of the pro-ported goals of the district–getting parents and families involved with education.