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Lesson 8.11

Hidden Treasure Trove for Schools

Volunteers are a kind of stealth wealth for schools

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If you can get things without paying for them, are they less valuable?

Of course not. Value is value, whether paid for in cash, barter or psychic rewards.

Money is only valuable for what it can buy

The "wealth" of a school depends deeply on the skills, energy and time that moms, dads, students, and community members can bring to bear. From athletic events to school committees and tax campaigns, volunteers are essential to the fabric of their schools. Contributions of time and expertise are sometimes celebrated, but rarely if ever systematically recorded on a school's financial statements.

Volunteers are stealth wealth

Volunteers are stealth wealth. The California State PTA estimates that in a single year PTA volunteers alone donated more than 20 million volunteer hours. Using IRS guidelines, in California alone this is roughly equivalent to half a billion dollars.

To elevate and amplify the value of volunteerism in California, in 2019 California Governor Newsom appointed Josh Fryday to the role of Chief Service Officer for the state, drawing on a precedent set a decade earlier in New York City by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In schools that do a good job of corralling free talent, parents provide all manner of assistance to their schools, including financial and legal help, organizational and technical consulting, and more.

They help arrange community events for the school, like running fundraisers or converting local goodwill into dollars. As "room parents," they amplify teachers' and administrators' ability to communicate effectively with the whole school community, setting up complex lines of communication. They arrange school partnerships with local businesses as well as organizing local bond campaigns or parcel tax measures. At elementary schools, volunteers also often help out in classrooms, often reducing the ratio of students to adults in a significant (but unmeasured) way.

Like all wealth, volunteer value is unequally distributed.


In California's wealthiest communities, schools are blessed with the help of college-educated parents with the ability to commit significant time in support of their children's education.

Parents in lower-income communities, by contrast, are far less able to help their schools. Volunteering in support of the school is a luxury when more basic needs, like keeping a roof over one's head, food on the table, and shoes on your children's feet are not met.

How big is the difference? An annual survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on differences in volunteering activity by ethnicity, marital status, and educational attainment, all correlated with income. Some communities and schools are in a better position than others to recruit parents and put their skills to work for kids. Addressing this disadvantage is part of the reason why California established the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which allocates extra funds to schools where there are higher concentrations of students in poverty and with limited English skills.

Not everyone volunteers. According to the US Census Bureau, there are big regional differences in how generous people are with their time. We examined these patterns in a post on our blog for National Volunteer Week in 2022. Californians aren't quite as stingy with their time as Floridians, but it's close.

Volunteer value is often squandered

There is nothing easy about corralling parent volunteers. It's hard to know what to ask of them. People come with different skills, time constraints, and commitments. Language barriers can be an obstacle. Even with the best intentions, some do not follow through because…well… life gets in the way, doesn't it?

Some of the highest-value volunteers in education are parent leaders. The PTA and other parent organizations help school leaders make the most of the available volunteer time. They convert goodwill and good intentions into action, and mitigate the flakiness that threatens any volunteer endeavor.

Oh, and they also learn, and teach. It is not an accident that Ed100 was, itself, substantially built by volunteers!

How can our schools recruit more volunteers?

Schools can do a lot to boost their volunteer recruitment — first and foremost through outreach. While a school's volunteers can come from all corners of the community, most will have children in the district. Some recruiters make use of materials like flyers and posters to attract potential volunteers. Some schools dedicate a faculty member to work with parent leaders, which can aid in the formation of a local parent teacher association.

Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) play an integral role in bringing volunteer work to schools. They often help organize school events, and recruit volunteers to help them. Community members interested in forming or joining PTAs can check out the California State PTA here.

Recruiting volunteers is only half the battle. Event organizers should also make it as easy as possible for volunteers to sign up. Online services like the popular SignUpGenius can be enormously useful in setting up an organized sign-up forum.

Updated December 2017
December 2019
July 2021
December 2021
September 2022


True or false: Parents in higher-income communities tend to volunteer in schools more frequently and intensively than those in lower-income communities.

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 5, 2022 at 1:29 pm
Time to volunteer? Under the California Labor Code employees are entitled to take to take up to 40 hours unpaid time-off from work to participate in their children’s school activities not exceed eight hours in any calendar month of the year.” Cal. Lab. Code § 230.8 . This applies to employers with 25 or more employees at the same location. You must provide advance notice to your employer.
user avatar
francisco molina August 19, 2019 at 2:24 am
Civics education could increase volunteerism, especially with 8 graders.
user avatar
Jeff Camp July 30, 2018 at 9:36 am
Youth Volunteerism rates in California are roughly in line with the nation, according to interpretation of census bureau 2018 research by the Do Good institute at the University of Maryland. National rates of volunteerism have declined: " volunteering rates for all
age groups – including high school students, college students, and the 25-and-over population – reached an all-time high between 2003 and 2005 before dropping substantially in 2006." The decline is particularly significant among college students.
user avatar
francisco molina August 20, 2019 at 1:38 am
Volunteerism has a direct relation with Civics. Poor Civics = few volunteers.
user avatar
Brandi Galasso April 18, 2015 at 6:54 pm
The problem is that the parents who care and volunteer are missing something, the information, Correct information. There is a certain group of parents, who come to every meeting school has. They volunteer in their child's class or past classes. But they still can't figure out how to help their child succeed. It's because our school doesn't inform us all correctly. The school tells us what they want, they mold their information to us to their advantage but can say we discussed that topic with parents. Our parents are unaware of Title I real meaning and laws that are supposed to make school and Teachers and parents the key to our students success. And parents like myself stand up for our students and fight for our Teachers and our kids and all I have received is retaliation to a written complaint I filled and harassed. They saw the law protects from that but it doesn't. So when other parents see what I have gone through just to help the kids, they are scared and don't want the harassment. I have had to fight the hardest fight just to volunteer at my child's school. Because of the front office who liked a failing school because failing means not busy. Its unfortunate and completely unbelievable that they can have such a affect on our children, and no matter how many laws they break, the district, makes it harder for me. Superintendent is up for an award but never in 3 years stepped foot on our campus to even pretend to care. So parents who see this just believe we have no say so or rights. And its sad because it affects our whole community. We are being brought down as a community by people who don't care because they don't live here.
user avatar
Steven N September 30, 2015 at 1:10 pm
The strongest legal platforms that Title 1 parents (Economicallly Disadvantaged) have is through the new state Target Student input mechanism of LCAP. First - get yourselves 'elected' to the ELAC (DELAC) and / or the SSC. You must learn what these are!

The Title 1 federal requirements (ConAp) require affected parent input. Always be sure this is done in writting! Get together in a parent study group (junta) and do this homework! Be very specific - want Title 1 dollars for parent-chosen small tutor groups? Then specificly ask for this in writting. Insist that your written input be taken (at a formal meeting) and that it is formally recognized. (The Minutes or a receipt)

Want LCFF "supplementary grant" money for summer learning? Get together the parents in the ELAC and SSC (junta again) and discuss and put this in writting. It is entirely permissable and legal to do this - outside of administrative control. [Greene Act for parent advisory groups]. Government 'by the people' is not the same as governance by the administration.

There are only small portions of a school district/school budget that parents have a strong say in [Title 1 & 3 and LCFF Supplemental]. so you need to be "very clear and many" to have even a chance. These funds should be be about 30% of the budget for a CA school "in Title 1" and with a "Target Student" population of over 40%.

best in your hard work (for this has nothing to do with luck)
©2003-2024 Jeff Camp
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