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PTA vs. PTO: Do you know the difference?

School Bus
Posted at 3:23 PM, Jul 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 23:35:48-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Delegates at the national Parent Teacher Association conference voted down a measure to raise yearly dues in June 2019. It would have been the first dues increase in nearly a decade.

What many parents don't realize is those dues are used differently depending on what kind of parent organization their child's school uses.

“Do parents not understand? Oh yes, they do not,” Denise Sultz, Secretary-Treasurer of the National PTA said. “We're actually seeing that now, with the proposed increase, where parents are saying we don't know what we're paying for."

Sultz was involved with PTA in Kansas long before becoming an officer at the national level. She's seen just how much of an impact the organization can have on a local and national scale.

“Last year, in our fiscal year, National PTA gave out over $700,000 in grants to local units," Sultz said.

Nationally, PTA provides resources for anti-bullying, healthy schools, and even art, through its “Reflections” program. And the funding comes from thousands of delegates all across the country.

In Missouri for example, when members pay PTA dues, which can be different from campus to campus, $2.00 goes to the Missouri PTA, and $2.25 goes on to the National PTA. In Kansas, $1.75 goes to the Kansas PTA and $2.25 goes to the National PTA.

"That two dollars for each member allows us to provide resources to our local units' officers and help them be trained," Susan Rupert, Missouri PTA State President said.

But that's not the case when joining a PTO, or Parent Teacher Organization. In that case, all of the dues stay on the child's campus.

Nancy McConnell has been involved with PTO as a mom, and as a teacher. She said the question of dues is always a big one for parents.

“We toy with, is it too high? Is it not enough? What do people really tangibly get from their dues?” McConnell explained.

A third option for parents in Kansas City Public Schools is called a School Advisory Committee, or SAC. It functions much like a PTA, except no dues are collected and it’s not able to fund-raise the same way.

"A large part of that was not wanting parents to feel the responsibility or repercussions of being able to come up with PTA dues in order to be involved,” Samara Crawford-Herrera, KCPS Manager of Partnerships and Community Engagement said.

KCPS actually requires all of its campuses to have a parent-teacher organization of some kind, but fewer than five of its campuses have a PTA. Only one, the Foreign Language Academy, has a PTO.

"With PTA, when your money leaves your campus, influence may be one of the most important things you're buying," Devin Wilson, a Shawnee Mission dad who serves as the Kansas PTA legislative chair explained.

“We track different policy going through the Kansas State House,” Wilson said. “On a lot of bills, we take positions as a state PTA on whether we feel that they align with PTA values, or if they're contrary. It's more than just bake sales and fundraising.”

Any parent with a school-age child should know what kind of organization exists at a child's campus, and where money goes when dues are paid. And if there's not an organization already, parents can charter one.

For more information on how to charter a PTA on your child's campus, you can visit the national website. To learn more about PTO, visit their website. And to learn more about School Advisory Committees in KCPS, visit their parent organizations page.