The "free" public school game: The opportunity cost of participatory funding

by Beverly H. Finch

Institution: Texas Tech University
Year: 2014
Keywords: Participatory funding; Public school K-12; Opportunity gap; Extracurricular activities; Pay-to-play; Pay-to-participate; Economically-challenged; Poverty students; Habits of practice
Record ID: 2025353
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2346/58712


Family income is now nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement, and students who can pay to participate in a college-ready curriculum have greater access to higher education opportunities. The common practice of requiring student/parent funding for certain courses/activities (participatory funding) creates an immeasurable opportunity gap for economically-challenged students. Participatory funding includes any expense mandated/required by teachers/sponsors/educators to participate in a public school activity/course. Student expenses may include, but are not limited to, pay-to-play fees, school supplies, supplemental books, instructional materials, and technology (Internet access, calculators, printers, and computers). This pay-to-participate funding keeps many students from taking college preparatory courses, such as preAP/AP classes, and it denies students the opportunity to participate in many extracurricular activities that are essential in preparing students for success in postsecondary studies. The purpose of this study was twofold. One purpose was to examine the perceptions of eight public school stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators) regarding the rationale behind the practice of participatory funding. The other purpose was to examine the attitudes, practices, and beliefs of stakeholders who are perpetuators of the habits of practice that may create opportunity gaps for economically-challenged students through the use of participatory funding. A narrative inquiry was employed using a modified constructivist grounded theory approach. Participatory funding themes clustered under three broad categories of participatory funding. These were academic (instructional expenses, school supplies, technology, and grades); social (extracurricular activities; fundraising; and social events such as prom, pep rallies, and homecoming); and emotional (students’ and parents’ inability to pay for activities, events, and instructional aids created frustration and discouragement, isolation from school/peer groups, and disconnection from the dominant school culture). The other theme centered on educators’ habits of practice, especially the apprenticeship of observation, deficit model of thinking, and the pathology of silence. This study aimed to increase understanding of the paradigms that exist in our public schools regarding the achievement/attainment gap between poverty and privileged students. It also aimed to increase awareness of the harmful impact of participatory funding practices among teacher educators, especially to the preservice teacher and educational leadership curriculum. The study also aimed to engender conversation among school practitioners that will lead to the elimination of student-imposed barriers to quality curriculum, instruction, and extracurricular experiences, so that all students will have access to all opportunities offered at our public schools.