Paying for Public School

This weekend was one of two semi-annual Mandarin immersion program meetings at Sammy’s school. If you recall, (or not, so I’ll remind you) the Mandarin program is currently housed within another elementary school. There is a standard English only program also. This year every possible room is being used as a classroom and the Mandarin program is only 3 years old. Next year there will be 4 additional kindergarten classes added and we will officially be too big to share any more.

There was a big hub bub last year about where we would move. With the budget issues this year, there was even some doubt a move could happen if the propositions didn’t pass. Fortunately, one did and the school will now be moving to a new location in Marina del Rey (about 10 minutes closer for me. Yay!).

The new issue is our Title 1 status. If you’re not familiar, Title 1 provides extra money for programs for low income schools. The low income status is determined every 7 years or so. Seven years ago, the Mandarin program didn’t exist, so the Title 1 status was based on the English program only and it happened to be a very low income school. So low, in fact, that the whole school qualified for Title 1. Every child could receive free breakfast and lunch, for instance. About $500,000 a year goes to the school from Title 1 funds.

The majority of the students in the Mandarin program, however, would not qualify for Title 1. That means when we move next year, we will lose all that money. It helps pay for teaching assistants, which are very necessary in a dual language program, arts, physical education, and programs that the district deems “extras”. So the meeting was about raising that money so we can provide our kids with the education we want them to have.

I’m not sure about elsewhere, but certainly in L.A., it’s pretty common for public schools to give a suggested donation per child for each family to make so the extra programs they have can be funded. On average, it’s around $1000. The number we got this weekend was $2100. The high number is in part because right now we’re a small school with only 240 students.

I have to say, there was some sticker shock when I saw that number. But then I thought about it. That is less than we pay for two months of preschool for Penny and Ella. It works out to a little more $200 per month of school. If I were sending Samantha to private school in this area, I’d be looking at $21,000 a year on average. So it’s really not that bad.

Also, with all the budget issues with public schools, I think it’s partly the parent’s responsibility to do something about it. It’s like the old adage, you get what you pay for. If I want Samantha to have access to music and arts, to current technology, and to physical education because I think those things are important to a child’s development and will help create a well-rounded, competitive adult, then I need to pay for it, at least some of it.

If I wanted to provide all of those programs for Samantha privately, we’d run out of both time and money. A couple thousand, although not chump change, really isn’t too much for the school to ask for our free education.

What do you think? Should public schools expect parents to pay something? Does your public school ask for a donation? Would you give if you were asked?

If you haven’t read my guest post over at What to Expect, you should head over and do it now. It’s about avoiding the grocery store if at all humanly possible with kids in tow. Really, a survival guide of types.


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4 Responses to “Paying for Public School”

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  1. Aliu says:

    Wow, I would have had quite a bit of sticker shock as well. I’m realizing now that we are very very lucky with our Mandarin immersion program. They have a lot of the same funding issues as they are a public school, but we’ve only been asked for donations. They just did a big PTA fundraiser, the Turkey Trot where the kids asked friends, relatives and neighbors for donations. I believe the principal has been able to do a lot of promotion and networking to get donations from local Asian associations, newspapers and even groups in China and Taiwan. I agree it’s reasonable for your school to ask for the suggested donation in order to pay for all of the desired programs. Hopefully as the school gets bigger and more well known that amount will go down. The good thing is it sounds like a great program and well worth the extra expense.

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to get funding from corporations and overseas. It’s really been interesting being in a brand new program. Things like PTA aren’t set up, so we’re just getting started with finding funding. Plus, being part of another school has been awkward to say the least. But it is a good program and we’re happy there, so I think it’s worth it.

  2. Kristin says:

    If I was in the same situation as you are I would pay a reasonable amount. You’ve found a great school community and it’s worth the extra dollars. It’s similar to me driving half an hour to and from school this year.

    This is total culture shock for me though, paying directly out of pocket for public school. Where does the money come from for meals at school? I’m hoping that’s not part of the education budget.
    Kristin┬┤s last post ..Just Call Me Demolition Girl

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It’s kind of a shock to me too. I didn’t realize how common it was in L.A. The meals in school for Title 1 are part of the education budget paid for with taxpayer money. Non Title 1 schools are subsidized to a point, but the students have to pay for lunches, although it’s only a couple of dollars, I think.

      You’re right about finding the right school community and doing what needs to be done to get your children there. (I drive a half hour each way too, although, that’s mostly traffic, it’s only 7 miles. :))