NC PTA Rakes in Tax Dollars as Parents Seek Alternatives

Published September 9, 2010

The North Carolina Parent Teacher Association is becoming less popular among parents but more popular among politicians.

North Carolina parents are leaving the PTA by the thousands, opting to form independent parent teacher organizations. Some are fed up with the PTA’s political involvement—it partners with teachers unions to lobby against school choice—but many say they just want more bang for their buck.

The state General Assembly found NCPTA worthy of more than $1 million in dropout prevention grants over the last four years. The grants were given for NCPTA’s Parent Involvement Initiative, even though parent involvement in the organization has declined steadily for 50 years.

The organization has lost one-third of its membership since 2001 and is only half the size it was in the 1960s. Its 188,000 members represent about 7 percent of the state’s parents with children in school.

Hasn’t Met Goals

NCPTA has received nearly $2 million in government funds since 2007. Tax dollars now make up about two-thirds of its operating budget.

In June the General Assembly appropriated $500,000 from its $15 million in dropout prevention funds to the PTA’s parent involvement program. It is the largest grant the organization has received so far. The spending was awarded with no application and no evidence the program had accomplished its goal the previous three years. 

The goal of the Parent Involvement Initiative is to keep more kids in school by engaging parents in school activities. Its website lists the following successes:

•    At Douglas Byrd Middle School in Cumberland County, parent clubs for Hispanic families helped 19 students pass reading and math tests.
•    At West Hoke Middle School, home visits to at-risk students helped 18 students “improve” developmental scores.
•    Home libraries were established for specially selected families at Anson Middle School in Anson County.

Volunteers Hired Full-Time

NCPTA recently hired six paid staff members—an executive director and five “parent involvement coordinators.”

Debra Horton, who served previously without pay as NCPTA president, created a paid position for herself—executive director—before her term expired in 2009. She since has hired five full-time staff members to do the work previously done by volunteers.

Horton said the full-timers were necessary because volunteers didn’t have time to make home visits, sit in on parent-teacher conferences, and conduct parent-education workshops.

Also, they’ve built customized home libraries for 25 families in Hoke County and “several other counties,” she said.

Horton would not disclose how much the coordinators were paid. She also refuses to release her own salary.

Parent Seeks Volunteerism

Several frustrated parents, teachers, and principals interviewed for this story wished not to be identified because they feared retribution from either the NCPTA or the North Carolina Association of Educators, with which it is closely aligned.

One parent said she was “appalled” when she heard the PTA got $500,000 this year. “I’ve been scratching my head for the last year and a half trying to figure out what the PTA actually does,” she said.

As a board member at her child’s elementary school—where PTA membership dropped from 70 to 40 last year—she was in charge of PTA drives. People started asking her, “What does the PTA do for my child? Why should I join?”

This year she told the principal she’s not going to participate in the membership drive. Instead she’s going to promote volunteerism.

“People don’t understand that you don’t have to be a member of the PTA to volunteer in your child’s classroom,” she said.

Lawmakers Justify Grants

This year’s bill appropriating dropout prevention funds to the NCPTA had 22 sponsors. Only four answered phone calls or e-mails asking why the PTA deserved the money.

Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) said the House Appropriations Committee wanted to give a larger portion of the dropout prevention grants to “programs that have shown capacity for replication, good outcomes, and that are research-based or have substantial research-based components adapted to North Carolina.”

The PTA met those conditions, he said. Asked for documentation, Glazier suggested contacting either Horton or Gerry Hancock, a former state senator turned lobbyist for NCPTA.

Rep. Douglas Yongue (D-Scotland) said the PTA could prevent dropouts by educating parents. “They have strong parent organizations in Singapore, and the dropout rate there is almost zero.”

China, India, and Denmark pay parents to attend school meetings, he added. “Plus, you won’t find an overweight student or faculty member in those countries.”

Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen) said he cosponsored the bill because his rural district had “a lot of high school dropouts” and he assumed some schools in his district were affiliated with NCPTA. The Bladen County superintendent says there are no PTA schools in the area.


Brisson’s confusion could have been related to the distinction between PTOs and the PTA.

Founder of Tim Sullivan said parents often refer to their school’s parent-teacher organizations as the PTA, even though 75 percent of these groups nationwide are unaffiliated.

Sullivan said some parents want out of the PTA because of the organization’s left-leaning political activism and its close ties to the National Education Association, but more often parents just want to keep money in their schools and spend it as they see fit.

Sara Burrows ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal, published by the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina, in which this article first appeared. Reprinted with permission.