Schools Turn to Booster Clubs to Fill Funding Gaps

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind.-While educators here are eager to fund such programs as summer school, preschool and performing arts, the money to do so is nowhere to be found. As is the case with so many school districts across the state and country, they find themselves facing reductions in state funding and unable to unilaterally raise property taxes.

So they have turned to what has been a classic source of extra funding over the years: parent- and community-led booster clubs that attempt to fill gaps in sports and musical funding through voluntary donations. In Johnson County’s case, though, several booster clubs have taken on the task of finding ways to fund activities that are beyond their traditional role, such as financing an alternative school or a community theater.

Booster clubs at this level of aspiration typically will reorganize themselves as non-profit foundations with explicit goals. After raising money through rounds of solicitations and events such as auctions, the foundations pledge to fund specific programs. These often take the form of cash grants to teachers for projects, programs and even basic classroom materials, such as art paper and pencils.

Two schools in the county are already enjoying some success with the concept. Center Grove’s Education Foundation has amassed an $80,000 balance, which it uses as seed money to fund teacher grants. Greenwood School’s foundation has raised $30,000 over five years and began its first teacher grants this year. One criticism of parent-community foundations is that they tend to work well only in communities that have high levels of wealth and thriving business bases. However, even less affluent school districts can use the booster club/foundation idea to good effect by asking parents and community members to contribute such in lieu services as repairs, equipment, art materials and tutoring.