While most school-based Participatory Budgeting programs are designed to put students in control of real money, we know that schools do better when parents and other community members are also involved. So, let’s explore how adults may play a role in school-based Participatory Budgeting (PB) — even when they don’t control the money!
Help with fund raising
As a parent, I’ve lived through too many fundraising campaigns. I’ve bought coupon books of questionable value, eaten at cheap fast food places, organized walk-a-thons, and eaten some pretty awful candy. I did this willingly because these efforts targeted new tablets, a kiln, upgrades to classrooms, more athletic equipment, field trips, books and supplies, and a host of other worthwhile causes.
I have to admit, I almost feel guilty adding another fundraising campaign to the list! I know that many families don’t have the financial means to donate to the school. And those that do often prefer to choose how their money is spent by identifying specific causes.
And yet, remember that the unique twist of PB is that it puts students in control of the money. And that makes it a worthy objective.
Ideally, students will create the PB theme, which students and parents can then use to help raise funds. Suppose, for example, that students decide that the PB theme should focus on upgrading school facilities. Parents can then use this to solicit donations to increase the PB budget, putting more money and power into their kids’ hands.
How the fundraising program is engaged should also be determined by the students and parents. It could be through direct donations, a simple GoFundMe campaign or perhaps through more candy.
The bonus? Many companies will match contributions to school-based PB programs.
Help refine proposals
After students have created their proposal ideas, the PB cycle moves into refinement. As students polish their pitches, parents can assist by asking questions that help them create an implementation-ready proposal.
Let’s say a student submitted a proposal to purchase ‘new basketball backboards.’ While that sounds like a good idea, the reality may be that no one is able to implement it. Asking a few simple questions will expose the holes and help students refine their proposal:
- How many backboards are needed?
- Where will you buy them?
- How much will all of them cost?
- Did you include shipping?
- Who will install them?
Remember that the only thing parents should be doing at this point is asking questions: Students should be responsible for getting the answers! A good rule of thumb is that the final proposal should have all the information needed to implement it. If not, then either some background is missing, or the proposal may be impractical.
Help practice proposal pitching
During refinement, students should develop a pitch video that explains who benefits and why other people should vote for this proposal.
That’s easy to say but often hard to implement. Even when they feel passionate about a proposal, shy students may feel uncomfortable developing and delivering a pitch. Conversely, more outgoing students may oversell their idea.
What works best is an authentic pitch, and that requires practice. Parents can help by providing feedback on student-generated pitch videos. Not just for their children, but for any students in the program.
Help implement proposals
Of all of the ways that parents and community members can get involved, the most important is through proposal implementation. Efficiently implemented proposals help students experience the power of Participatory Budgeting, creating a positive feedback loop. Involved parents also develop stronger ties with teachers, other parents, and other members of their school communities.
What parents should avoid
Here’s the dilemma. Although we want parents to get involved, we don’t want them to be TOO involved. For example:
- Do not submit proposals. As an interested parent, you probably have some great ideas to improve your child’s school. And there are many alternate forums for your thoughts, such as the PTA or sending an email to your school administration. Unless you’re explicitly designated as a PB participant, please don’t submit proposals. Instead, use the conventional channels designated for parents.
- Do not advocate for a proposal. Sometimes, PB can be really hard, especially when your child is presented with several appealing programs. That difficulty is part of the learning process. So, let your child work through the challenges and make their own decisions.
- Do not increase the budget. Successful families, schools, and cities use budgets to manage their money. A useful PB lesson is that people will create more good ideas than they can afford to execute. So, please resist the temptation to increase the budget to allow your children to purchase everything they want. We want students to have the experience of negotiating over a limited budget.
- Do not criticize mistakes. Even though your children will do their best to refine and select the proposals they believe will make the most impact, chances are they will make some mistakes. One of the backboards may fall apart after a few months. A new printer may break down, without a budget to repair it or the extended warranty plan that someone forget to fill out. An improvement may have exceeded the budget because a problem led to a cost overrun. Do not criticize these mistakes. These, too, are part of the process, creating learning opportunities. And keep in mind that some of these problems may not have been in the control of the students.
Parent and community involvement improves PB programs. We hope that you find these tips useful as you implement yours.