Question: "illegal" for PTO to pay for needy kids' school trip?

Our elementary school (in NJ) used to have a PTA. Earlier this year, we switched and became a PTO. The PTA used to pay for a handful of needier kids’ annual class trip (ex: NYC Museum of Natural History, or wherever). I believe it was a line-item in the PTA’s annual budget. The PTO’s treasurer, however, says this is “illegal” and the PTO board (about 6 individuals) held what appears to be a secret vote to write this into the bylaws (i.e., no payment for needy kids’ school trips). The supposed reason is that it’s illegal. I checked our state’s criminal statutes & code, but am not finding anything. My question is: Is this practice illegal? Thanks. --CHW

Asked by chassett



Advice from PTO Today

Craig writes:
No, it's not illegal. What they're thinking of is probably the IRS rules for 501c3 charities. I don't think you have anything to worry about with the IRS because helping needy kids attend field trips certainly fits with your mission of helping the school and its students. But there's a simple way around this problem if you're worried -- donate the money to the school to pay for the field trips. Then let the principal decide how the money will be distributed. The IRS allows 501c3 organizations to donate money to other 501c3 organizations, including public schools. In fact, this is the best way to handle the situation whether or not you're concerned about the IRS. You don't want to be in the position of deciding who's needy or not. So the school tells you how much money they need, you make the donation, and the school decides who gets the money. That's a perfectly acceptable transaction, and one you probably make frequently when the school needs something. Making sure everyone can participate in educational opportunities like field trips is a good role for the PTO. I hope your group will continue that practice.

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