Almost everyone knows what the PTA is, but not many people understand the true importance of this type of organization in schools. While it is true that PTAs and PTOs organize fundraisers, their benefits to schools go well beyond the financial.
In reality, these groups set the foundation for strong relationships between schools and families, benefitting not only students and parents but also the community at large. Keep reading to learn how.
What is a PTA/PTO?
“PTA” and “PTO” are sometimes used interchangeably, and they do perform similar functions for schools. However, it’s important to note the difference between the two.
PTA, or Parent Teacher Association, is a national non-profit organization headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Describing itself as a child advocacy group, its mission statement reflects the full range of issues affecting schools and school-age kids.
By this mission, PTA chapters have helped establish programs such as universal kindergarten, the National School Lunch Program, and a juvenile justice system. Local PTAs pay dues to the national organization in exchange for resources and support in addressing local school needs.
PTO, on the other hand, stands for parent-teacher organization. Many school advocacy and fundraising groups that are not affiliated with the National PTA, whether because they prefer not to pay dues or want to create their own rules and policies, refer to themselves as PTOs. They may also be called “home and school clubs” or “booster clubs.” These groups fulfill many of the same roles as local PTA chapters, but function as independent organizations. If you’re curious about how to start a booster club, watch Parent Booster USA's webinar on booster club basics here!
Similarly, Parent Booster USA helps school organizations like PTOs and booster clubs handle the required state and federal paperwork required of fundraising groups. By being a member of Parent Booster USA we provide member organizations with peace of mind when it comes to filing the necessary paperwork required of school fundraising organizations. Learn more about Parent Booster USA here.
The decision to join the National PTA or form an independent PTO depends on the particular goals and needs of your school and volunteer base. But as we’ll see below, both types of groups have vast benefits for schools.
Why PTAs and PTOs Are So Important
1. PTAs/PTOs raise much-needed money for schools.
Most people associate PTAs and PTOs with fundraising. Though fundraising is only a small part of the PTA/PTO’s duties, it would be imprudent not to acknowledge the vital role these groups play in raising much-needed money for schools. Schools in the U.S. are famously underfunded: by some estimates, they’re missing up to 150 billion dollars. Shrinking school budgets have a direct effect on student wellbeing and academic success.
Among many other things, PTAs and PTOs leverage their organizational power to coordinate volunteers and plan and execute fundraising efforts. These fundraisers pay for everything from field trips and facility upgrades to academic programs and updated technology. They can also facilitate programs that directly affect students’ health and development, such as physical education or lunch programs.
2. Parent involvement benefits students.
It’s easy to see how fundraising directly benefits students. Arts programs, STEM programs, extracurricular activities, computers, library books, and more – all of which are commonly paid for through fundraising – empower students to succeed academically and thrive in school.
But that’s not the only way PTAs and PTOs help students thrive. PTAs and PTOs bring parents into schools, allowing for “face time” with other parents, teachers, administrative staff, and sometimes students other than their kids. These interactions allow parents to provide better support for their kids in the place where they spend the most time.
Through the PTA/PTO, parents get a wider view of their students' lives and the school issues that affect them. They also get the opportunity to express their concerns and goals, which can then turn into wider PTA projects to benefit the school at large.
3. PTOs/PTAs strengthen school-community relationships.
Schools are a fundamental part of any community. It’s where our kids spend most of their time throughout their childhoods and teens, and we trust these institutions to mold our kids into capable, resilient members of society. When schools and communities operate in partnership, everyone benefits: students feel a greater sense of belonging both inside and outside the classroom while community members begin to see the school as an important asset.
PTAs and PTOs often form the link between a school and the community at large. By opening the lines of communication between school staff and families or caregivers, these groups create a space for schools and communities to work together to achieve common goals. Most importantly, the open lines of communication help foster better opportunities for the children.
How to Start a PTA/PTO at Your School
If your school does not yet have a PTA or PTO, it’s easier than you think to get one started.
First, decide whether you’d like to join the National PTA, ParentBooster USA, or create an independent organization. PBUSA has tons of helpful resources to help your school launch a PTA.
No matter your decision, the most important step is gathering a group of driven, caring people to start brainstorming goals and projects. Once you’ve gathered interested volunteers, make sure to define your goals; write a mission statement; take an inventory of your members’ availability, skills, and interests; communicate with school staff; start brainstorming ideas for programs and fundraisers.
Getting involved in the PTA/PTO does take a certain amount of commitment – but you get to decide how much or how little time you dedicate. Considering the vast benefits of PTAs and PTOs to any school ecosystem, you can be sure that no matter what, the effort will be well worth it.