After years of widespread school budget cuts, parent groups continue to feel pressure to provide greater financial and volunteer support for their schools, according to a PTO Today survey.

A total of 598 PTO and PTA leaders responded to the online survey, which was conducted in October 2013. Participants were chosen at random from a nationwide database of school parent group leaders. The survey asked parent group leaders about their groups’ fundraising, spending practices, and volunteering time. A similar study was conducted in October 2011, with 634 parent group leaders responding. The results of the surveys, while not scientific, provide insight into the pressures facing schools and the parent groups that support them.

The good news is that fall fundraising was strong, with 63 percent of schools reporting earnings in fall 2013 equal to or higher than earnings the previous fall. The demand for that money increased as well, however, with 54 percent of groups saying they are being asked to do more financially this school year than last. A continuing trend in the 2013 survey was that more leaders responded that their groups are being asked to provide for basic needs of schools, such as classroom supplies.

“With budget cuts, the school needs basic items like copy paper, student supplies, and moneys to assist with teacher appreciation and business partner appreciation events,” noted Sara Pierce, a teacher and parent group leader at Apollo Middle School in Hollywood, Fla.

One Illinois PTO president wrote, “We...provide more staff appreciation events since morale was low due to budget cuts. Teacher grants are also needed to cover classroom items not in the school’s budget.”

Results of Fundraising Efforts

Is Your Parent Group Expected To Do More or Less Financially

Enrichment programs such as school assemblies, field trips, and author visits remain a key component of PTO and PTA efforts. Respondents reported they plan to spend an average of $4,300 on enrichment programs, the most of any category. After enrichment, leaders said their groups would spend the most on technology, an average of $3,900—a 58 percent increase compared with the 2011-12 survey.

Estimated Spending Per Category

Evaluating Spending Requests

Increasing Volunteer Demands

Almost half of survey respondents (47 percent) said their parent groups are expected to do more to support the school through volunteering this year than in recent years, compared with 44 percent in 2011.

Expectations for Volunteer Support

Volunteer Levels

The shift seems to be due in part to reductions in support staff positions at schools. Several leaders reported that their administrators are pushing for parents to get more involved in the day-to-day activities of school, rather than primarily helping with special events. In many schools, volunteers are helping out with tasks formerly handled by staff members, such as working in the library, making copies, and assisting in classrooms that previously had teaching aides.

“Budget cuts have cut staff so [the] need for in-classroom volunteers, library, and kitchen volunteers has increased dramatically,” wrote Stacey Lahaug, secretary of the North Powder Charter School PTCO in Haines, Ore.

About the Survey

Overall, the survey indicated the continuing strength of parent groups and the important role they play in schools. The average PTO or PTA provides thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of support to its school over a wide range of needs and duties.

Some statistics about the respondents:

Roughly 50 percent came from schools with 500 or fewer students, and 50 percent came from schools with more than 500 students. Leaders were from public schools (84 percent), charter schools (7 percent), parochial or religious schools (5 percent), and private schools (3 percent). They were at elementary schools (63 percent), middle schools (8 percent), high schools (4 percent), K-8 or K-12 schools (19 percent), or another configuration (7 percent).

Annual budgets were most commonly $5,001 to $15,000 (30 percent) or $0 to $5,000 (24 percent), with 11 to 20 volunteers (33 percent) or 0 to 10 volunteers (30 percent).

Estimated Budget