Useful But Limited Report Examines Private Fundraising for Wealthier Schools

Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Though it offers a helpful approach for estimating spending by private fundraising organizations, report fails to support its key claims.

A recent Urban Institute report analyzing the role of Parent Teacher Organizations and similar groups in Illinois echoes and amplifies the existing critique of private fundraising: that it exacerbates inequitable school funding. However, some weaknesses prevent it from making a convincing case.

Maia Cucchiara, a professor at Temple University, reviewed Documenting Inequitable Patterns in Spending by Parent Teacher Associations, Parent Teacher Organizations, and “Friends of” Fundraising Groups at Illinois Public Schools, and found that problems with its analysis and presentation of the data undercut its conclusions about the impact of this fundraising.

The report uses a thoughtful and creative analysis of tax return data for 600 school-specific organizations in Illinois, matched with school-level demographic data. It finds that fundraising organizations are more likely to exist in advantaged schools. It also finds that groups at wealthier and whiter schools spend more per student than groups at other schools. Based on these findings, the report recommends that state and district policymakers track private fundraising and consider strategies for resource sharing and equalization.

However, Professor Cucchiara explains that while the report’s claims are consistent with other research, and while its recommendations are sound, its problems with data presentation and analysis prevent the report from illustrating how much these patterns actually exist in Illinois schools. As such, she explains, the report fails to conclusively demonstrate two key claims: that schools serving wealthy student bodies are more likely to have private fundraising groups, and that larger shares of white students are associated with increased private spending.

Nonetheless, the report’s approach of calculating per-pupil spending to estimate the magnitude of spending by private fundraising organizations could be useful to scholars and policymakers interested in understanding the potential impact of school-specific fundraising organizations. These groups could also find report’s recommendations helpful, especially those concerning tracking and equalizing funds raised.

Find the review, by Maia Cucchiara, at:

Find Documenting Inequitable Patterns in Spending by Parent Teacher Associations, Parent Teacher Organizations, and “Friends of” Fundraising Groups at Illinois Public Schools, written by Claire Mackevicius and published by the Urban Institute, at:

NEPC Reviews ( provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Contact Author


National Education Policy Center
(720) 505-1958

Full Name
Phone Number

  Spam Protection