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What's the Difference Between PTA and PTO?

What's the Difference Between PTA and PTO?

While organizational structure distinguishes PTO and PTA groups, the commitment of their leaders is the same: to support and improve their school communities.

by Tim Sullivan


The technical differences between a PTA and a PTO are fairly simple. The National PTA is a formal membership organization now headquartered in Alexandria, Va., with a 120-year history of working for children. School-based groups that choose to belong to the PTA must pay dues to the state and national organizations and abide by state and national group rules. In return, they get member benefits, and they get a voice in the operations of the larger organization. The National PTA maintains a Washington, D.C., office where it pursues a public policy agenda, and most state PTA units advocate at their respective state capitals, as well. The PTA carefully protects its name so that only dues-paying members of the group can call themselves a PTA.

PTO, on the other hand, is a generic term that stands for “parent-teacher organization.” It usually represents groups that choose to remain independent. These are most often single-school or district-level groups that operate under their own bylaws and by and large concern themselves with the goings-on at their building or in their town only. Popular acronym include PCC (parent communication council), PTG (parent teacher group), and HSA (home and school association); because PTO is the most common name, we use it generically to refer to all non-PTA school parent groups.

For some groups, the PTO vs. PTA debate is simply a matter of dollars and cents—“We don’t want to send any money out of our school.” For others, the question takes on a significantly increased importance. If we don’t speak for all children, then who will? the PTA’s loyal defenders often ask. Put another way: Do we want to be part of something larger and spend our group dollars outside of our school? Or do we want to focus exclusively on improving and creating community at our school? Since the PTA was the only formal national school parent group, the decision in the past was often “PTA” or nothing.

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The PTA, Then and Now

Since its inception in 1897, when Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst started the National Congress of Mothers, the National PTA has spoken out on issues related to child welfare. PTA support played a role in instituting school lunch and inoculation programs. Today, the PTA’s D.C. office is actively involved in working against school vouchers and for increased federal education funding, among other initiatives.

At a more basic level, the group provides a host of resources to affiliated groups that want to take advantage. From a carefully crafted arts campaign to state and national resource manuals (virtual how-to books on running a parent group), PTA member groups are offered many benefits in exchange for group dues.

After 120 years, the PTA name has certainly achieved a high degree of recognition. For the vast majority of Americans, the term “school parent group” goes hand in hand with the term “PTA,” and it’s most often “PTO” that is met with quizzical stares. When Tom T. Hall wrote his chart-topping song, it was “Harper Valley PTA.” The movie and TV series of the same name cemented the impression further. Like Kleenex and Band-Aid, the PTA name is often applied universally. And because PTA is the only national school-parent membership organization, PTA representatives are often used as spokespeople for parents in education debates.

The struggle for the National PTA is not evident in its political activity or its name recognition. Instead, the challenge is at the local level, where some groups struggle to justify the rising expense and the focus on political advocacy against the practical benefits they gain by belonging to the PTA. From a record high of 12.1 million members in 1962, PTA membership dropped to just over 5 million in the early 1980s and today stands at close to 4 million. There are PTA units in 27 percent of public and private K-8 schools in the United States, based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics and information from National PTA reports. While there is no highly accurate count of PTO groups (because independent PTOs do not report to one central organization), a conservative estimate—based on PTO Today’s communication with tens of thousands of school parent groups—puts the number of independent PTO groups at more than double that of PTA units.

On the financial side of the discussion, the average local PTA forwards an estimated $550 to its state and national organizations in dues alone; sometimes county dues are added, as well. Increasingly, groups are looking at those dollars in terms of what the money could do for the local school—pay for a field trip, perhaps, or provide new technology for classrooms. Some groups would prefer to charge no dues, instead considering all parents automatic members of the parent group at their child’s school. When measured in purely economic terms of costs versus benefits, local groups often ask, “Are we getting enough value for the hundreds of dollars we pay in dues?”

That calculation becomes more difficult as PTA dues increase. National PTA per-member dues are currently $2.25 per member; states (and sometimes PTA county councils) charge additional per-member dues ranging from a couple of dollars all the way up to $12 or more per member in Oregon.

“I converted three PTA groups to PTOs many years ago,” a New Jersey parent group leader posted in the PTO Today message boards in 2014. “We desperately needed (and still need) to keep as many dollars in our schools to support vital programs for our students.”

In the past 10 to 20 years, the National PTA has also increasingly emphasized its political advocacy agenda and its role as a voice for all children. Creating a new leadership structure—through a reshuffling of its board, the creation of a highly paid CEO position for the group, and a broad expansion of headquarters staff and payroll—was a move aimed at repositioning the PTA as an important player with a voice in national issues.

The public debate over what the PTA voice should say has at times been heated. While the PTA says that its political role is central to its mission and has been for more than a century, local units may not see the value. The PTA takes strong public stands on some controversial issues; most PTA policy stances are voted on at the group’s annual convention each June. Typically, 1,000 to 2,000 PTA members—from about 3.8 million members nationwide—are certified to vote at that convention. Because local member units must make a commitment to publicly support all National PTA positions, in some cases groups have disassociated from the PTA rather than do so.

PTOs Are No Longer Alone

The Internet has played a part in the changing role of the National PTA, as well. Not long ago, the PTA could rightfully claim to be the only provider of parent group resources. If you wanted information on running a group or fundraising or Robert’s Rules of Order, or if you wanted materials on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or school bus safety or bullying, the PTA was a valued clearinghouse. Today, with the advent of round-the-clock communication and the spread of online access, that role of the PTA is less pressing. There are dozens of websites focused specifically on parent involvement, fundraising, or playgrounds, as well as any parenting or child development topic you might want to learn about.

Even one of the National PTA’s most common selling points—that local PTAs have access to training, networking opportunities, organizational resources and more (and therefore non-PTAs don’t)—is far less true today. Since the establishment in 1999 of PTO Today, which focuses on providing resources and services to parent-teacher groups, all parent groups now have access to many of the services once available only to PTAs. With a print magazine, an active online community, a series of vendor and networking fairs across the country, and a host of programs and tools designed specifically to help PTO and PTA leaders, PTO Today is a valuable resource for all parent groups.

Much as PTA officials are often looked to by national media for input on parent and parent involvement issues, PTO Today has assumed a similar role. PTO Today experts and PTO Today content have appeared on national and local television and radio and in newspapers across the country, including USA Today, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, Child magazine, and Martha Stewart Kids. Similarly, PTO Today’s partnerships with consumer companies like Trend Micro, LeapFrog, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and others have made additional resources available for free to all PTOs and PTAs.

The vast majority of PTO Today’s services are used by both PTOs and PTAs alike. At one time, it was thought that groups leaving the PTA desired isolation, but the strong grassroots response to PTO Today’s offerings suggests that perhaps those groups were simply looking for a different model of assistance. Where once the only practical way for a parent group to get liability insurance or to attend a parent group event was to affiliate with the PTA, now PTO Today offers more cafeteria-style access to insurance, trade shows, and more. Groups can now compare the costs and benefits of PTA affiliation to the costs and benefits of remaining independent and make their own eyes-open decision on which model works best for them.

Despite talk of differences and division, two important facts remain. First, nearly all K-8 schools still have active parent groups, and second, nearly all active parent groups work toward the same goal: to foster strong, nurturing schools. Even PTA-affiliated parent groups, which are part of the larger “all children” philosophy, spend the majority of their time working within their local school community.

The simple truth is that PTOs and PTAs are more alike than they are different. Put 1,000 PTA members in a room with 1,000 PTOers and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Committed, generous volunteers are the common denominator. Whether it’s through a PTA, a PTO, or another mechanism, as long as those volunteers continue to support their schools, then children—all children—will be the winners.

National PTA® is a trademark of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers and is not affiliated with PTO Today®.

Originally posted in 2009 and updated regularly.


# S. Rickert 2008-02-18 12:04
The decline of National Organizations like the PTA has had a profound effect on the formulation of policy. It has allowed an increase in centralization of decision making which takes power away from the people and concentrates it in an increasing oligarchical political system. If the PTO and the PTA do the same thing at the local level how can you deny that an orgainzation that pushes beyond the confines of 'your back yard' to look closely at the policies formulated in the state capital and the national capital has additional value. Most troubling is the formulation of a 'national organization' that attempts to claim voice for those local groups based not on the association of individuals into groups, but based on their management of lists and donor solicitations.
# Dayna 2008-03-10 00:31
I sure would like to see an actual pro vs con list. I want to take a simple list to our next board meeting.
# Tia B 2008-03-11 21:01
I would also like a pro-con list. We have been issued a mandate by administration that we must join PTA, and I need points to debate the issue.
# Kathryn Lagden from PTO Today 2008-03-13 11:44
Good suggestions on the pro/con list. Our editorial team is looking at putting something like this together.
# Tricia Painter 2008-04-17 08:20
Our PTA was considering changing to a PTO and this article was what we needed to make that decision. Now how do we make that change?
# Kathryn Lagden from PTO Today 2008-04-17 15:36
Glad the article helped with your decision Tricia. Have you also read our FAQs and message boards on this?

Our PTO v PTA FAQs: http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/480-pto-vs-pta-faqs

Our PTO v PTA Message Board: http://www.ptotoday.com/boards/pto-v-pta/

If you have further questions or if we can be of help, definitely contact us at customercare@ptotoday or 800-644-3561 ext. 208.

One key note: more than 75% of the K-8 parent-teacher groups in the country are actually independent PTOs, so the change you're considering is fairly common.
# Samantha 2008-05-01 19:37
Our parents group is unsure about PTO vs. PTA. We are trying to start a Special Needs parent group but don't want to do a SEPTA just because our town is traditionally PTA. Are there Special Education PTO's out there?
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-05-02 10:48
Sure -- you can start a special education PTO. Definitely happens. On the organizational side, no difference between a SEPTO and a PTO. Both can be and are independent. All about your goals and which model works for you.
# brandi 2008-05-23 11:58
Did anyone every get a pro vs con list? Our school is thinking about switching to a PTO. We tried this past year to get someone from PTA to come and do a class for us but could not get anyone to come down and thr group is tired of paying the dues and not getting any help like this. I would love to get a copy of the pro vs con list to present at our next meeting. Thanks.
# Kathryn Lagden from PTO Today 2008-05-23 14:54
Hi Brandi - I just checked in with our editorial folks and the pro/con list is in the works but won't be ready for a few weeks.

Have you checked out the PTO v PTA FAQ? Could be a good handout for your meeting - http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/480-pto-vs-pta-faqs

This discussion thread is also good - http://www.ptotoday.com/boards/pto-v-pta/11718-how-switch-pta-pto.html
# Kelly 2008-05-28 21:35
I find it quite odd that I posted a message yesterday, which is now not viewable. The message pointed out the fact that a PTA is non profit, membership dues is spent on developing tools and programs for youth which are then distributed to individual groups at no cost.

PTO Today on the other hand is one of the fastest growing private businesses in the US, hence the monies collected selling software and services is resulting in profits for a private business.

I asked for clarification as to whether or not my research was correct. I also stated both PTO's and PTA's are worth the investment, I just wish it wasn't the intent to mislead the volunteering parents about the real truth behind the issue. I do realize it is an individual groups decision to purchase the tools.

The art of marketing is a wonderful plan.
# Tim Sullivan 2008-05-29 01:32
Ummm... Kelly, I think you may be looking for ghosts where they aren't. No intent to mislead -- your comment wasn't actually posted to this article. It was posted here: http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/465-just-say-no-to-dues ... and that's where I responded.

Just to clarify, PTO Today's resources are by-and-large free to PTOs and PTAs. Nearly all (95%) of our resources are supported by advertising, not PTO or PTA dollars.
# Kelly 2008-05-29 08:03
Mr. Sullivan, thank you for your clarification. Again, I commend you for taking an opportunity and running with it. Again, the reality is both organizations are beneficial for youth. I don't see why one would promote the seperation, especially when the big picture isn't actually being shared. You are a for profit , private organization the PTA is not.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-05-29 10:02
I'm still not exactly sure what you are trying to imply. Yes, PTO Today is a (hopefully -- 4 kids and college on the horizon) for-profit company. Just as the company which makes the desks at your school is and the company that sells the textbooks and the company that makes the buses, and Scholastic and Apple Computer....

The good news -- all of our resources are available equally to both PTOs and PTAs. Thousands and thousands of PTAs use our many tools and services, which is awesome.
# Anna 2008-06-25 17:31
It would also be helpful to see the pros and cons of a Foundation. More and more schools now have Foundations or have both a Foundation and a PTO or PTA. Does a PTO need a Foundation if they want to raise money?
# Sue M. 2008-08-15 01:50
Please do not allow yourself to get caught up in the fact that PTO Today is a "for-profit" company. Quite frankly, everyone is in the business to stay in business. The services and tools they provide at a one time $199 annual fee are amazing.

Traditionally, non-profit businesses operate solely off of donations. Do I need to remind you that the National PTA (not to mention what the state takes) receives $1.75 of every membership a PTA has? I'd rather spend $200 a year and get what I know our school wants or needs vs. paying multiple times that and getting a cookie cutter version of what everyone does.

One significant benefit to going the PTO route is you able to personalize the group's plan for your school and your students. And all of the money you raise via memberships stays right in your own bank account!
# Penny Manke 2008-08-23 18:11
To see the difference between PTA and PTQ just go to pta.org. You will see all the free resources for your PTA. Also, the PTA advocates for all children and public schools on a local, state and federal level. There is always someone to turn to for help at the state, national and local levels. PTA provides you with the leadership and structure needed to sustain your group. PTA's are autonomous and usually covered as a 501c3 non profit organization by the National PTA. Check it out for yourself at pta.org.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-08-24 03:36
Hi Penny -

Defintely a good site to go to to check out the PTA. One quibble, however: while the PTA does provide resources, it's not correct to characterize them as "free". The average unit spends more than $1000 in dues in order to be a PTA. And even after that, a good number of the PTA's resources have additional costs associated with them (convention, Schools of Excellence certification, more...). Worth mentioning...
# Eliseo Ortiz 2008-09-15 15:30
What does PTO stand for?
# Kacey 2008-09-15 19:08
As a former PTA member/president. And now my kids attend a brand new school, where the parents have a choice to either form PTA or PTO. I have concluded that from the dollars and cents point PTO is better. But if you never lead and non for profit, nor do you know what an EIN is or how to get one. Then PTA is much better because they do all of that for you, and they provide training on how to deal with those irate parents or how to organize a fund raiser. PTA will also send out a team of people to your school and help you recuit parents and teachers. In other words you get what you pay for.
# Nan 2008-09-19 13:50
I'm not sure where PTO is getting the $1,000 per year figure. Our PTA has 48 members and paid $180 in membership and $200 a year for PTA group-rate insurance. If we were a PTO we'd be paying $199 to join and more than $600 for insurance. It wouldn't make any sense for us to switch.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-09-19 14:19
Hi Nan -

The $1,000 number is an average that's really never been in dispute. There are roughly 5.3 million PTA members in roughly 22,000 units, which is about 240 members per unit. Multiply that by average national, state, and council dues... and it's up over $1,000 in dues.

Sounds like it's much different math for you guys, which is great fro you. I don't disagree at all.

RE: insurance. while it's comon for PTA rates to be a bit lower, I've never seen a case where the difference was as large as you've described for the same coverages. Are you talking about the PTO rates for PTO Today Plus members? Typically, that difference is more like $40-$100 depending on how many converages are selected.

# Debra 2008-09-20 03:32
I'd certainly like you to describe what your officer's receive for the $40-$100 and why units must choose "options," when in fact they may or may not understand what is specifically necessary to protect their respective units and homes (especially in the case of brand new officers). In such a litigious society, and in your own words (units are looking to get the most value for the dues), it would seem the extra $100 is worth the $1,000,000 in coverage PTA offers. Additionally, PTA doesn't offer a regular and "plus" membership. I get the feeling they regard everyone as equally important and that it's unnecessary to offer Multi-Level type marketing to target specific groups.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-09-20 05:43
Huh? The $40-$100 more is because the insurance company -- at this point -- charges more for the PTO group policy than many state PTAs get for theirs. It's not in our pocket. The reason for that is that -- until PTO Today popped up to help -- there was no PTO group policy, and therefore the "claims history" for the PTO group is very limited.

I think you're looking for some vast, for-profit conspiracy here, when the fact is our presence has brought rates down (way down for PTOs and I'd argue somewhat down for PTAs).

Are you suggesting that our offering cafeteria-style options at a variety of pricepoints is *bad* for groups? If yes, I think we'll have to agree to disagree on that. I think that flexibilty and freedom is one of the things that groups like best about PTO Today.
# Craig Bystrynski from PTO Today 2008-09-23 15:42
Hi Eliseo -- The most common names for school parent groups are Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and Home and School Association (HSA). There are lots of other names and acronyms, but the bottom line is they all do the same thing—help create the kind of school environment where teachers and students can do their best work. -- Craig
# PTA pres 2008-10-01 02:38
Coming from a current PTA President of our local unit and also the Membership coordinator, I have to say I am still a little confused. I not only have to recruit the members for our unit but also as the President find a purpose for them to even be here. It would be much easier to do this as a PTO (or any name other than PTA). The PTA has aquired such a CLIQUEY (?sp) name tag that I myself am even annoyed with the process.
# Alison 2008-10-02 07:44
PTA pres-

I am confused on why you feel it would be easier to do all you do with the PTO name instead of the PTA name. If you went with PTO, wouldn't you have the same issues? It sounds like you need to take a few of your members and delegate out the responsibilities. Coming from PTA, you should know how to do that. Any organization should know how to do that. As for the cliquiness, having a specific name usually doesn't matter, it's the people that were in that group that make the difference. I turned our PTA around from being a "rich parent clique" to a "family involved, for the students parent group" that everyone is involved in. Good luck to you.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-10-02 17:19
Hi Alison -

Quick point. You say: "As for the cliquiness, having a specific name usually doesn't matter, it's the people that were in that group that make the difference."

I say: exactly!!!! That's the point we've been making -- and which PTA folks often object to so vehemently -- for 10 years.
# Marcia 2008-10-15 22:53
Hi All,
I've been researching this PTA vs PTO thing for 7 years now. I understand the logic behind what Tim is saying. I think if we are for all children, not just our own or our schools, it doesn't matter the name. Having said that however, I just want to tell you what I've been doing in PTA for the past 7 years working in the Council and Region part of PTA.
I and my 2 associate Dir. are over 79 schools that are PTA/PTSA. I spend upwards of 15-20 hours per week, sometimes more, working one-on-one with local units to solve almost every kind of conflict that arises, helping them with 501c3, school district, and organizational issues. I know my colleagues around our state do the same. I've even gone out to schools and helped set up nominating committees, and worked with principals to get these boards back up and running by making countless phone calls in that school's behalf.
# Marcia 2008-10-15 22:55
Apparently my comment was to long, so here is the rest of it;
Our State board spends countless more hours on behalf of all our PTA boards and members. We put together training opportunities for things like; understanding district policy as well as compliance with IRS and State requirements, dealing with board transitions and conflicts, etc. (all at no additional cost outside what dues they have provided to state). Our councils usually receive .25-.30 for every member and yes the state gets $1 for each member of which a large portion comes back to our region to put on our Programs like reflections (which take up the biggest portion of our budget), Awards, Battle of the Bands, etc.
In my humble opinion, If our time is worth anything, then I think they get a pretty big BANG for their buck.
# Tim Sullivan 2008-10-16 00:47
Hi Marcia -

Thanks for the feedback. My most important response is: Thanks! Your volunteer work is awesome.

Couple of additional perspectives on what you're saying: 1) There are a lot (more than half, in my estimation) of PTA states/regions where the services are not close to what you're describing; and 2) even with you doing all that work, it remaisn fair for a particular group to decide if that work is a fit/worth it for them. If they don't use the help, then why pay for it? If they don't attend the training, then why pay for it? Etc.

Again -- awesome that you do it. But doesn't really change the economic argument of whether it'sa fit for the local group.
# mcke661@bellsouth.net 2008-10-27 10:51
What auditing &/or checks and balances are there with a PTO in regards to the money? As I understand it, since each is an individual group, there does not have to be any in place.

That makes me very nervous both as a member and a possible board member.
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-10-27 14:29
Hi mcke661-

I think the financial checks-and-balances are really the same for both PTOs and PTAs -- it's very much up to the local unit to utilize and enforce those. Sadly, we see about an equal ratio of PTOs and PTAs experiencing losses (often theft) due to poor controls. It's not an A or an O issue.

You're correct with a PTO there doesn't "have to" be any controls in place, but your member/board member concerns would really about whichever local PTO you were involved with, and it's easy enough to check that group and/or help that group get the controls in place if they are not there. Tons of PTOs have very good controls in place, just as many PTAs do.
# Jill McKenzie 2008-10-30 01:44
Where can I find these equal ratios experiencing losses data?

Also, does a PTO have to have a mission statement, by-laws, etc.? Or is it up to the individual unit? What if I don't agree with what was put into place 5 years ago?
# Tim Sullivan 2008-10-30 11:17
Ratio-wise, the data comes two ways: 1) we've worked with insurance for parent groups now for about 4 years and have seen/heard no difference whatsoever in the claims history (for bonding, for example) of PTOs v PTAs; and 2) anecdotally, simply review our blog or do your own google news search of "PTO PTA embezzle" or the like... and see what comes up.

Mission of PTO -- that's up to your local group. Most are quite similar, but it's wholly up to you. If you don't (more correctly: your group doesn't) like it in 5 years, make the proper motions/steps to change it.

# Donna 2008-11-02 18:09
Hi, Can anyone out there tell me how to start a PTO from the ground floor? I've read all the pro's and con's for PTA etc. I'm finding insurance info, and I would also like more info on the annual 199 dollars for tools, etc. Also, do we need by laws or codes of conduct, etc? I'm floundering here with all there is to read but not really getting the basic info I need. Thanks so much for your help :-)
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2008-11-03 14:39
Hi Donna -

One of our staffers will be emailing directly. You can also call our 800# (800-644-3561) for direct help.

# Angie 2008-11-11 19:48
Has the pro vs. con list been made yet about PTO & PTA. If so, where can I find it. Thanks!
# Kathryn Lagden 2008-11-11 20:08
Hi Angie - here's the link to that list - http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/705-pto-vs-pta-differences-at-a-glance
# Jennifer 2008-11-17 21:31
Interesting. I am a new member to PTO as my first child is now in K-5. I did not even know there was a difference. However, two weeks ago our acting Superintendent came to our district wide PTO meeting. We bounced around the hot topic of class size and funding for additional teachers and consequently smaller class sizes. He really drove it home that we would have to go to the state level to get action. Petitions, Congressmen...things that in theory sound bold, passionate, and of course where the change could happen. It also sounds overwhelming and intimidating as to where to start. So it really seems that more of an effort should be there from the PTA to get the local PTO's onboard with helping to make change, lobbying for the things that will make a difference. Since the PTA has the resources and is physically situated where this change may be better heard, it would be great to have task force teams within PTO's that work with reps in the PTA's to get change moving!
# Jacquie 2008-12-09 22:23

My son goes to a Technical High School where there is limited ways for parents to get involved and help the school. I have been asked to explore the possibility of either a PTO or a PTA. I have downloaded the PTO vs PTA sheets, which appear to very helpful but my question is: Are there any PTO's out there for Secondary students - grades 9 - 12?

# Kelly 2009-01-26 14:11
Is it possible that a school would have a PTO and a PTA? If so, Why?
# Tim Sullivan from PTO Today 2009-01-26 16:06
Hi Kelly -

It's possible and perfectly legal, but it's not common and -- in my opinion -- not optimal.

The one exception is that it can be wise to have the PTO up and running before you officially disband a PTA (if you're contemplating that process), as it can make transition easier (no gaps).

Beyond that, I find that having tow differnt school-wide parent groups only confuses your parent community and needlessly creates a lot of duplicate work.

# kreem 2009-02-02 05:24
Is PTO up and running
# denise 2009-02-26 05:51

# Tim Sullivan of PTO Today 2009-03-03 03:10
Ummmmm, Denise. Not exactly sure how to respond to that one. Each PTO is independent. Think you may be over-analyzing things here...
# Riann 2009-03-09 22:19

As an active member of a PTO in a low income school system, I resent that comment. As a school district, we cannot afford to have a PTA, nor do we feel that we can have the involvement necessary to maintain the PTA if it were formed. We have no dues, and donate 100% of all profits to the school. It helps out the teachers because they all get a field trip stipend. We do all the fundraising for the school as well. We are doing everything in our power to make our school better when the state has just ignored our cries for help. We couldn't pass a referendum if it were coated in chocolate and topped with whipped cream. We also have an issue with our school being largely non-english speaking. Please do not refer to us as welfare recipients. That is a broad generalization. Our PTO is made up of upstanding parents and teachers.
# Juliet in Virginia 2009-03-24 14:54
11 years involved with PTA--local, council, district and state levels--I have always been impressed with the compassion and intensity of our volunteers.

Our strength to influence legislation on behalf of ALL children lies in the number of members we represent.

I am heartbroken today because my child attends a title one school with families much too strained by the economy, and PTO seems more "cost" worthy to some.

This thinking will dissolve the PTA at a time when it is critical!! Our future: our children, ALL children and there are some things you CAN NOT put a price tag on.

I am overwhelmed that groups of parents actually believe helping jsut their child is enough--what a small minded thought.

In Virginia, 1.75 goes to National and .75 goes to our State. What a nominal fee to be a part of such a strong volunteer-based child advocacy group.
# Stef 2009-05-07 21:30
omg! is this for real?
# Lucy 2009-06-30 06:10
As current president of our local PTA, our principal has asked me to look into changing our existing PTA into a PTO. She's had enough with our state board and wants to start ASAP. I told her I'd get all the information ready to share with our current board. PLEASE HELP US. I don't know where to start. Thanks so much!
# Chris Trinity 2009-08-02 12:31
I am passionate about child advocacy. I recently learned that National PTA have more than 5 people with less than 2 years experience in the PTA earning in excess of 100K. Where is that money coming from? The dues that PTA members pay. The CEO is a motivational speaker; so yes he has a great fan base. He has authored a book that is being promoted and sold on the PTA website that benefits him directly --- is that double-dipping off the backs of true volunteers. I would say YES! Stay with PTO--if you're passionate about children.
# Tim Sullivan _ PTO 2009-08-04 16:49
Hi Chris -

Thanks for the feedback. I'd say that both PTOs and PTAs are passionate about children. Thank goodness.

Your book point -- I have no idea on the double dipping -- is a decent example, though, of a question many local units do ask: how are these dues dollars we're sending away (in this case supporting sales of that book) benefitting our local unit?

RE: staff. I believe there was a layoff at national PTA last week. Don't know if it was the higher-salaried staffers. Suspect not.
# Bruce Deitrick Price 2009-09-02 00:12
For what it's worth, Martin Gross in "The Conspiracy of Ignorance" made the PTA/PTO conflict seem to be another case where a large, national group becomes more liberal than its members; so local groups spring up to defend their own views. We see the same thing now in AARP, which is facing a revolt by its members.
# Holly 2009-09-08 19:10
Sounds like there's more accountability with PTA. Also sounds like PTO's eventually mess up the overall school budget with their independent purchases. No real advocacy for children in that regard.
# Tim Sullivan _PTO Today 2009-09-08 19:15
PTOs mess up school budgets by buying stuff for schools? Really?

I'd like tp put in a request to have my personal budget messed up in that way.

Not to mention the fact that PTOs and PTAs both make purchases for their schools. That's not a PTO or PTA thing.

# Dee 2009-10-09 22:08
As a long time PTA member at the unit, council, and state level it is amusing to see the nasty comments about one or the other. If we are all parents concerned about the future of America's youth....then there should be no argument. We should all be working for the same cause....good health and good education for our children. Many PTA's fund field trips, cultural arts, teachers luncheons, etc just as their counterparts in PTO's. We should all gang up on the parents who are not involved at all instead of sniping over whether a PTA or a PTO is "better". It depends on the needs of your school and is and should remain an independent decision based on the facts that are relevant to your building.

Be peaceful and good role models for your children
# PTO Mom 2009-10-15 15:45
My mom was PTA president for most of my elementary and middle school years. Recently, I helped to organize a PTO at my own son's school. I agree with the folks who have said that in this country, isn't it great to have a choice? There are difference between PTO and PTA and each group can determine which is best for its own members and the school. Most importantly, these are two type of organizations that share an interest in our kids. Get off the sniping and focus on why they both exist.
# Donna Dodgen 2009-12-15 16:03
I am shocked by the formation of PTO. I really don't understand the need of a PTO. PTA dues were only $5. $1 dollar went to national level and $1 dollar went to state. $3 was left at the school level. Without sending money to a national organization for children's rights, there will be no legislation. This is a tragedy. The National PTA was responsible for fighting for the current rating system for movies, G, PG, PG13, R. The movie industry did not do that on their own, it was the national level of parents joining together to fight a major cause for all benefit from. Only thinking of a school wanting all the money is so sad when there are larger issues for children needs. What happened to the PTA's fight for seat belts on school buses. PTA you get the best of both worlds. Major safety changes for America's kids and money for the individual school
# Sherry 2010-01-04 00:50
My children attended a private school for the last 12 years where only the PTO was available, my youngest is now in a public school where a PTA is used. I personally think both are good and parents and teachers will only get out of what they are willing to put in it.

That being said, does anyone know how often they are to be audited?
# Mary 2010-03-16 06:39
I will say that after a year of being involved in our kids' elementary school's PTA, what I have seen scares me. PTA at our school seems to attract these self-proclaimed "messiah" types who verbally abuse volunteers and officers and bully them, all while pushing some agenda of their own -- or perhaps that of the principal.

I say if the PTOs require adults to act like adults -- i.e., be respectful, civil, even agree to disagree and move on -- then that's awesome! Cliques went out in high school. We all grew up, or didn't we?

Just because a national organization doesn't have its sticky fingers in the local school's money put there by the tax-paying PARENTS, so what.

GO FOR IT PTO, and keep up the DECENT treatment of those that support and work hard for your efforts. Your volunteers will continue to grow in numbers.

After all, that's part of what keeps volunteers coming back....only I don't think this Elementary School's PTA nor the school principal has that figured that out yet.
# nut4squirrel 2010-03-21 15:04
Parents involvement in their child's learning experience is very important to maximizing that child's success. However, that involvement needs to go beyond a single organization.
# Jtest01 2010-07-21 14:29
This was incredibly informative. Thanks!
# Rick 2010-10-11 18:25
Well, I am ashamed! I have been an active member of my sons' elementary school PTO for six years. I understood that the reason we were a PTO was to avoid PTA membership dues. I never once stopped to consider what those dues were buying me and (more importantly) my kids.
I feel as though I and the leadership of my kids' PTO have been short sighted here. For an additional five bucks, we can be supporting the wonderful work national PTA does in the areas of child protection and advocacy. We choose not to because $5 might discourage a few parents. I don’t believe five bucks is going to discourage any parent who would otherwise want to be a part of a PTA or PTO.
I for one will strongly urge my school to make the change to a PTA. If that does not work out, then I will be proposing a voluntary contribution each year to the National PTA or the local Delta Council for PTA, so that we are doing our part to support the wonderful work of the National PTA organization.
# Rockne 2010-10-11 19:41
Hi Rick -- Saw your comment. For the record, what you mention is basically what I've always said about PTA. I think that parents who both support the PTA and choose to personally make the PTA one of their causes should do that directly. In recent years, many state PTAs and the National PTA have added that direct membership as an option. From what I've seen, very few are taking that option, but I think it's good that that option is there. The $5 number really is a misnomer when it comes to a group, as parents can't choose individually when it's a group decision. For the average PTA unit it's actually about $1,000 that goes from the unit to state and national PTA. That's a good fit for some groups. And not a good fit for others. I've never heard a parent group member of any stripe say that he or she is "ashamed" of volunteering for kids and schools in any form. That certainly seems like a major reach. Tim
# Jeff 2011-08-18 00:31
WHY PTA ? It's the ONLY organization with a voice in Washington at the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT LEVEL advocating for chidlren's education.
That's where the money is that is essential to USA's educational efforts! No other organization has representatives advocating for children's education at the National Level.

And the National PTA does it for so little!

Show you care for ALL children who will be your chidlren's future friends, neighbors and co-workers (And your caregivers when your old).

If there is no local PTA for you to join: http://pta.org/jp_find_your_pta.html

Then consider at least supporting the efforts to reach our Federal elected officials by joining the National PTA for a little over $2 a month.

# Margaret 2012-08-03 02:00
I like the idea of PTO because I don't like to give money to groups that lobby positions I don't agree with at all. I found this on both the state and national level and have stopped joining the PTA. I give the money directly to the teacher to help other kids with their needs. I like the idea that my daughter's new school will have NOT have a PTA, but instead, a PTO that we control 100% of, locally.
# Elizabeth 2012-09-28 23:02
If the national/state figures are correct, our PTA sends about $525 to national and $225 to state. That's $750 NOT being used at my daughter's school.

I don't want to support lobbyists, period. I don't want the PTA lobbying for movie ratings, or music ratings, or what have you. I don't want to support a political agenda, one way or the other. I *really* don't want to support a national organization, because inevitably, with such organization, donation dollars end up supporting people who make a paid career out of 'administrating'.

I'd much rather support *my* child's school and district and keep the money at home. Yet I can't even volunteer at my child's school *unless* I join the PTA. How wrong is that??
So, PTA has my membership, but only under duress.
# Tina 2013-05-08 15:10
I've been at schools that had both forms of organization. Personally, I prefer a PTA. Yes, a small portion of my dues went to the state PTA and national PTA, but the leadership training and overall professionalism of the PTA I belonged to was head-and-shoulders above that of the PTO. Both schools were in relatively affluent areas of their respective states with plenty of at-home parents to get involved.

I think the difference really stemmed from the PTA's ability to collaborate and get ideas from other PTAs and from the state and national levels. The PTO felt much more isolated, and you had no idea what other PTOs in the area were doing unless your child happened to know a child at the other school and you asked the parent, who happened to be involved. (That's a lot of "ifs.") Our PTA president, on the other hand, was very aware of how other PTAs in the are were running, largely because she had occasion to meet with them.
# Tina 2013-05-08 15:11

The PTO was run about as efficiently as my homeowners' association, also an independent 501(c)3. Things got done, but not with the same level of turnout or parental involvement as with our PTA. Our PTA was truly a well-oiled machine, in terms of fundraising for the school and sponsoring fabulous activities like school dances, an international cultural night, a spring drama/play, an annual art festival, etc. Our PTO did some activities, but quite honestly, it just felt "bush league."
# Rockne 2013-05-08 18:14
Hi Tina - Good feedback. Glad your PTA experience went so well. I'd just caution against using only two groups (out of 80,000+) as evidence of a trend. I suspect it's more likely that you just happened onto a less organized PTO and a really well-functioning PTA. In my experience, I've seen tons of really well-running PTAs and PTOs and tons of really struggling or middling PTAs and PTOS. It's been much more about the habits and people at the local level than it's been about the acronym or affiliation.
# Amy 2013-07-07 22:02
Our school is considering switching from a PTA to a PTO. We have about 50% participation. In looking for ways to increase this, we visited the PTA's website and found their pros of membership. We felt if we used their list for our drive, we might lose members. Especially, if members realized how much $ didn't stay in our school. We want increased parental involvement, not dues $. We view access to the PTA's programs as a pro for it. A big pro for a PTO is it may be less restrictive on fundraising activities. Our understanding of PTA rules is that we are limited to 2 fundraisers/year. We don't want more large fundraisers, but we can't do any other type-- even t-shirt sales -- unless done as part of those 2. Add'l smaller fundraisers could benefit our school in monetary and non-monetary ways. (This doesn't apply to our book drives, etc. I believe this is because they are officially done by the school and funds go to its budget.) Are we correct that a PTO is less restrictive in this area?
# Craig Bystrynski 2013-07-08 13:47
Hi Amy -- PTOs are independent, so you would be able to determine the number and types of fundraisers that are right for your school.
# Rockne 2013-07-08 15:10
Hi Amy -
I agree with Craig on the independence, but wanted to add one thing: I hope you'll share all that you've learned with your members and let them make the call or help make the call. It's their group and their $$ as much as yours. If your members wouldn't like the idea of so much $$ heading away from your school, then that tells you something important.
# tony 2013-11-23 18:07
Can a school in NYC have a PSA group and a seperate PTO group? There are obvious reasons in our situation of having a separate group. Things are not being done when they should and a few likeminded parents are willing to forge ahead and start our own pto. thank you
# Rose Hamilton 2013-11-24 22:25
Hi tony,
That's an option, but perhaps best considered only when you are sure all options to work together have been exhausted. The problem with setting up a separate group is you could end up essentially competing with each other for support and that ultimately doesn't do the parents and school community much good. We have lots of resources on the site to help resolve conflicts, working with difficult people and building support for ideas. Here are just a few:

When Conflict Splits Your Group: http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/196-when-conflict-splits-your-group

How to Build Support for Ideas: http://www.ptotoday.com/video/14-quick-tips/detail/215-5-tips-for-promoting-new-ideas?detail=7&buttons=1

How To Deal with Difficult People: http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/409-how-to-deal-with-difficult-people

Good luck!

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