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How can it be wrong to give to your kid’s school?

A school district tried to share rich parents’ donations with poor schools. You will believe what happened next.

Zoe Kravitz performs in the Big Little Lies school fundraiser.
Zoe Kravitz performs in the Big Little Lies school fundraiser.

The word “philanthropy” conjures up images of big-time donors like Bill Gates or George Soros, hanging out at Davos and announcing sweeping plans to cure disease or save democracy.

But philanthropy isn’t just about the superrich. It’s also about small-dollar donors like you and me. And there’s no better place to see that than in philanthropy-funded nonprofits that most parents should be familiar with: parent-teacher associations.

PTAs are parent-run organizations at the school level organized to get parents and families more involved in their children’s education, and they’re usually funded by contributions from the parents.

Donating to support your kid’s school seems like a great thing to do — and it is! But as we explore on the season finale of the Future Perfect podcast, it’s also a political act that can profoundly affect other families, and your broader community.

Because PTAs are funded by philanthropy, not taxes, their resources can vary dramatically from district to district and school to school, with wealthy students benefiting the most. That can be disturbing when PTAs are tasked with paying the salaries of science and art teachers, and funding key infrastructure like science labs, as happens in some districts.

To think more clearly about the effect of PTAs — and specifically mega-rich PTAs in wealthy school districts — we talked to New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein about a recent fight in the Malibu-Santa Monica school district, just outside LA. For a few years, the district tried to remedy inequalities between poor Santa Monica schools and uber-wealthy Malibu schools by pooling PTA donations and divvying them up evenly to all schools.

That system isn’t in place anymore — and in the episode, we dive into the revolt of wealthy parents that killed it.

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