By Keegan Hamilton
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By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
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"There's a lot of schools that depend very, very heavily on subsidies coming from parents," Kessler says.
Only 12 percent of city elementary schools and 63 percent of middle schools report meeting state mandates for arts education, according to the DOE's own 2008–2009 Annual Arts in Schools Report. It calculates that parent funding represented 27 percent of non-DOE arts education funding for elementary schools during that school year, 13 percent in middle schools, and 8 percent in high schools, rivaling only the total amount contributed by cultural organizations.
The 2008–2009 Arts in Schools Report for P.S.321 shows that, thanks in part to PTA funding, the school had one full-time certified dance teacher, three music, and one visual arts, as well as one part-time certified music teacher and one for visual arts that year. The PTA paid for a dance education company, Together in Dance, as well as for a drama program for fourth-graders and a computer consultant, according to Mont.
The same report for P.S.51 shows it has only one full-time certified music teacher, and no direct support from the PA. With only a fraction of P.S.321's budget, the P.S.51 Parents' Association was limited to buying art supplies for existing teachers, according to Parent Coordinator Helena Ortiz.
"As more and more money has been cut from special programs like art and music and really concentrated in English and math, it's often been the job of parents' associations to make up the difference, and in schools where parents' associations can't make up the difference, they might go lacking," says Sweet.
Despite the disadvantages that schools in low-income neighborhoods face, "There are some schools that are really savvy in raising money," says Kessler. González's school in the South Bronx is one example: His school boasts a robust after-school program and two science labs. He has facilitated trips for students to see Alvin Ailey and In the Heights, making use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants raised through his own ingenuity.
Last year, a $300,000 grant from the Bronx borough president provided funds for a new library where none existed before. The school got a grant totaling about $400,000 to build a science lab, but González thought it would be wiser to build two, each at half the cost. So far this year, the school has been awarded $2,000 by the Bronx Council of the Arts for integrating Bronx artists into the curriculum, and it recently received a $50,000 technology grant from the state by linking up with a nearby school that qualified for the grant.
González's expertise has led him to hold seminars on creative fundraising for schools through Kessler's Center for Arts Education, teaching principals how to apply for grants, develop relationships with politicians, and assign staff members to write proposals.
Yet even if more principals get better at fundraising, grant writing is no panacea. Kessler notes that the total of González's grants still cannot compare to the highest-yielding parents' associations. Furthermore, strong PAs also help schools apply for grants, compounding their effectiveness.
"There's a lot of schools where the PTAs are barely breathing," Kessler says. The No Child Left Behind Act gears additional money toward schools with needy students, but he says the funds fall short. He'd prefer to bring back dedicated arts money, weighting it toward schools with a scarcity of art teachers that lack PAs with powerful fundraising ability. That way, though some kids would still get more than others, schools would start off on an equal footing.
"I don't think there are any easy answers," says Leonie Haimson, executive director of the parent advocacy group Class Size Matters. While some educational critics have called for a freeze on parent fundraising, she believes that parents are being forced into a corner. If the DOE more wisely used resources like its share of state Campaign for Fiscal Equity money, she says, parents wouldn't feel the need to pick up the slack.
"I really believe there would be less of an impetus for PTAs to raise all this money if they felt the schools were adequately funded," says Haimson.