Although MCPS gives more dollars per pupil for enrichment programs to lower income schools, private funding though PTSAs, education foundations and parent booster organizations contributes to the gap.
Whitman’s PTSA raised around $74,000 in 2017, excluding its post prom funds. The Kennedy PTSA, though, raised about $6,000. The cost of joining the organization contributes to the funds raised, as it costs $15 for a parent to join the Kennedy PTSA while it costs $40 at Whitman.
Kennedy’s PTSA spent around $5,000 of that money on post prom, PTSA secretary Kelley Eiskant said, adding that this didn’t leave a lot of money for discretionary spending on additional school resources or staff development.
“We’re sorely underfunded,” Eiskant said. “The major thing that we really do every year is post prom, and ideally we would like to be able to support our staff members and students in other ways.”
Private funding at Whitman through the education foundation, PTSA and booster clubs contributes to professional development for staff, improved technology and extracurricular activities, Whitman’s PTSA secretary Neha Dhir said. Without such funding, many students from schools in lower income areas are at a disadvantage.
The Whitman High School Education Foundation raises funds from parent and community member donations. During the 2016-2017 school year, the Foundation raised $132,883, which it used to fund 44 new grants for programs, including purchasing 100 new Chromebooks, 3D printers for engineering programs, new furniture in the media center and new lighting consoles in the auditorium. These resources help students learn to use sophisticated technology and enrich their education outside of school—advantages that students at lower income schools don’t have. Some of the money is also used for professional development, which helps teachers enhance their skills to teach AP and other higher level courses.
In contrast, some MCPS high schools, including Wheaton, Springbrook and Albert Einstein, don’t have an education foundation at all.
Many downcounty schools don’t receive a lot of private donations since parents are often trying to make ends meet, English teacher Cody Therrien, who taught at Kennedy, said.
“There’s a lot more active engagement from the parents, and I think that’s due to economic factors generally speaking,” Therrien said. “A lot of my students at Kennedy—their parents were working several jobs. They didn’t have the money to donate, and they didn’t have the time to donate.”
When Therrien worked at Kennedy, he taught a student who easily earned a hundred percent on all of her progress checks. He was shocked to learn she lives in a basement with three other families. She was talented, he said, but he worried she wouldn’t reach her full potential.
The Black & White has a staff of 86 students in three class periods, with a budget that runs around $19,000 year. Ninety percent of its income comes from subscriptions, many of which are purchased by journalism parents who support the publication.
This magazine, for example, costs upwards of $2250 to print; The Black & White will spend about $10,000 on printing costs for the five tabloid and two magazine issues it will produce this year. Because this publication has the resources to produce high quality journalism, it wins national awards and increases recognition for student journalists, adding prestige to resumes before college applications and perpetuating the cycle of inequity. This opportunity is not an economic possibility for schools in low income areas.
Many downcounty students lack financial support to spend on extracurriculars, multiple SATs—the county funds the first one if taken during a school day—and school trips, but their family incomes make them ineligible for fee waivers, Eiskant said.
Montgomery Blair senior Kayla Malone is a member of the minority scholars program. She says this gap extends to academics as well.
“In my classes, I know a lot of other minority students that don’t want to take AP Calc because they don’t have the opportunity to get the tutor that a more privileged student can get,” she said. “They just don’t want to take the class because they feel threatened and don’t have the same opportunities,” she said
Many Kennedy students have learned to make the most of their circumstances, senior Kiera Hall said.
“We all try our hardest to succeed,” Hall said. “We make lemonade out of the sourest lemons that we are given.”