The Cupcake Wars: The Fight Over School Fundraisers

By Charlotte Hilton Anderson, REDBOOK

Every year, our school sends home raffle tickets for my children to sell to raise money for school activities. Every year, I give each kid $15 and send the whole stack of tickets back to the school with the money and a note saying our family will not be participating. I'm not trying to be a killjoy. I'm just so tired when it comes to fundraisers. I'm not alone in my frustration. In fact, The New York Times has dubbed the problem "the cupcake wars" and a recent article chronicles how school fundraisers have become an example of a fundamental issue facing our country today: the class divide.

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As profiled in the Times piece, one Brooklyn elementary school caused a huge controversy when they raised the price of cupcakes at the bake sale from 50 cents to one dollar. But as Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, says, "It's never just about the cupcake." In reality, it was about the tension between the nouveau riche and the immigrant poor in that Brooklyn district. For one group, the dollar is a pocket change; for the other, it's the entire tip they made from cleaning the first group's houses.

I'm neither poor nor rich, but heaven help me: I still hate bake sales. We live in a part of town where the school system is so cash-strapped, they actually closed my kids' elementary school last year and funneled all the kids to neighboring schools without increasing any of the available resources. I understand why they need money. But doesn't it make more sense skip the raffle/cupcake/wrapping paper shenanigans and just give the school what you can afford? Or will people not donate money unless they get something in return, no matter how small?

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Surely there's got to be a better solution. What do you think is the best way for schools to raise money? Are bake sales where you are also fraught with classism and elitism?

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