PEP Fund provides relief

July 7, 2020

The PTA Equity Project (PEP) Fund was founded to address fundraising disparities among District 65 PTAs, which was leading to inconsistent and inequitable experience for children across schools. With the rise of COVID-19, however, the Fund is now being operated for emergency relief, including the provision of 200 Chromebooks to District 65 students who need technology to access remote learning during this prolonged school closure.

the need

Prior to this crisis — as reported in District 65's demographic overview — more than 3,000 children within the District were considered to be low-income, with 158 children homeless. The PTA Equity Project (PEP) began in December 2016, in response to years of anecdotal evidence of fundraising disparities among District 65 PTAs, which was leading to inconsistent and inequitable experience for children across schools. With the support of the Evanston/Skokie PTA Council, the PTA Equity Committee (the “Committee”) was formed to gather and analyze concrete data about what inequities actually existed and what, if any, interventions could address those inequities.

The PTA Equity Committee created the PEP Fund at the Evanston Community Foundation to address the inequities across school communities. However with the rise of COVID-19, the team decided to move the focus on relief work. Recognizing that we are in unique and challenging times, the Fund is being operated for emergency relief that is an exception to what the long-term mission of the fund will be. In an effort to support this necessary work, the Evanston Community Foundation made a $50,000 grant to the PEP Fund.

the history

The PTA Equity Committee is comprised of at least one representative from every PTA in District 65 (as selected by that PTA), as well as representatives from PTA Council and Foundation 65. In addition to providing additional perspective and information, the Committee includes educator, administrative, and school board representation. The Committee is facilitated by Biz Lindsay-Ryan, Suni Kartha, Elizabeth Davies, and Elizabeth Rolewicz. All four facilitators have children in different District 65 schools, are current members of their PTAs, and bring a variety of perspectives and expertise to their roles. The Committee works in a highly collaborative manner and each member has been a vital part of the conversation, guiding the collective thought process to ensure they consider the perspectives of every PTA as well as of teachers and school leaders. In addition, each member of the Committee has taken part in equity training through the District (Beyond Diversity and/or SEED training) and trainings offered by Biz (who is also an equity, diversity and inclusion consultant) in conjunction with PTA Council.

The PTA Equity Committee did extensive fact-gathering around PTA fundraising efforts, taking into account the demographics of each school. The results of their research uncovered a fundraising range in 2016–17 (of the schools that have PTAs) from $27/student to $286/student. The PEP Fund distributes to PTAs based on need, with the goal of getting each PTA to a minimum of $70/student. The exceptions are for two District 65 schools that serve very high needs populations — Park School, a self-contained therapeutic day program that serves students ages 3–21 who have severe cognitive disabilities, and Rice Education Center, a therapeutic day school program connected to the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Child + Family Center (a Children’s Home & Aid center). While Park has a PTA, its student and parent population (and, thus, its fundraising potential) is small. Rice does not have a PTA. Therefore, the Committee recommended that the allocation formula be weighted to provide additional funds to these schools.

the fund

When the COVID-19 crisis began, the PEP Committee decided to temporarily pause its usual work and focus on using the PEP Fund to provide emergency relief to families in need. In order to facilitate contributions to the Fund, the PEP implemented three phases: (1) The first was asking the PTA's to donate a significant portion of their reserve funds to help families during these difficult times; (2) The next phase was then asking these PTAs to reach out to their communities to direct any individual donors to the Fund; and (3) The final phase was for the PTA Equity Project members to identify and apply for grants to help provide support to families in District 65.

Student_hands_typing_on_Chromebook.jpgthe collaborative grant

The PEP Fund has already been put to good use through the power of collaboration. The PTA Equity Committee, the Evanston Community Foundation, and Foundation 65 have provided 200 Chromebooks to District 65 students who need technology to access remote learning during this prolonged school closure. This type of support was helpful for many of the families who were already experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. An additional grant of $50K was also awarded to PEP to allow the to extension of their direct transfer program through the summer months.

“Before receiving the Chromebook, my children were very frustrated with just ‘trying’ to do any work without the proper tools. Now that we received the Chromebook, my children literally jumped right on and knew exactly what to do because they learned how to access their work while in school and now they can access their work from home. My daughter, who has a Special Education teacher, has been able to have lessons with her teacher and a small group that meets the needs of these students.” 

— District 65 parent

PEP’s basic human needs

PEP direct deposits to individual PTA's. Principals, Social Workers and D65 Equity and Family and Community Engagement get the money and resources to their families in need. PEP believes this is the best way to ensure privacy and dignity for every family. Since PEP has been operating in an emergency need capacity, they have been able to help more than 600 families in the D65 community. Most of the funds have been used for food, rent, transportation, child care and general school supplies. Obviously, this is a unique time and schools’ needs may be more than what they are receiving through the distribution model. In these cases, PEP encourages PTAs to reach out to them for additional funding.

the future of PEP

The PEP Fund has already made a significant positive impact for schools and students. Examples of some of the new opportunities that the fund enabled for PTAs include:

  • providing a scholarship fund for before- and after-school enrichment programs;
  • creating a supplies fund to reduce or eliminate teacher out-of-pocket spending for class necessities; and
  • allowing for monthly dinners to enhance community-building and a sense of school cohesion.

As we slowly back out of the current pandemic, PEP will pivot to ensure that it is serving the current needs of students and families. If you have questions, please send them to evanstonpep(at)