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Evanston/Skokie School District 65 relies more on parent-teacher funds than people might think. This year, the Evanston/Skokie Council of PTAs, the umbrella association for all D65 PTAs, is hosting a native plant sale that will benefit all Evanston students in D65 through the PEP One Fund initiative and ecosystems alike.
The PTA Equity Project (PEP) is a standing committee of the PTA council created to address inequities in PTA funding & opportunities throughout D65. PEP is a committee of equity-minded PTA representatives from each D65 School. In 2020 all D65 school PTA’s voted to pool all PTA raised funds into the One Fund, to be equitably distributed each year to all schools, using an equity formula.
Generally, the group is focused on providing equity guidance for PTA’s, along with creating and providing tools to foster equitable outcomes for all students in D65 as it relates to PTA sponsored activities, enrichment, community building and fundraising.
The sale of plants native to this area of Northern Illinois is a collaborative PTA Council Fundraiser planned by PTA volunteers to raise funds for the PEP One Fund.
The plants on sale are beneficial for native bees, butterflies, caterpillars and birds, whose populations have plummeted due to major loss of the prairie habitat in Illinois, according to local environmentalists and PTA parent Lauren Marquez-Viso.
“The plants selected are very specific to [this] area and represent many of the species that have been lost over time,” she said.
Marquez-Viso is a PTA volunteer who happens to serve as Vice President of the Board for Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a 501 (c)(3) organization intent on making Evanston more environmentally sustainable.
The PTA Equity Project
The PTA Council is “a collaborative space where we brainstorm and problem solve and share ideas,” said Council Vice President Erin Sacluti, who has three children enrolled in Evanston schools.
Created in 2016, PEP strives to ensure all students in District 65 regardless of which school they attend have equitable access to PTA initiatives, programming and enrichments through the equitable distribution of the PEP One Fund.
In 2020 all D65 Schools voted to participate in the PTA Equity Project (PEP). Prior to that schools with higher capacity to fundraise were able to provide their school community a variety of after-school programs, field trips, additional teacher and principal funds, yearbooks and more. Not only that, many PTAs have been able to fundraise for capital projects like playgrounds and school libraries and additional amenities, while PTAs at schools with less capacity for fundraising have never had the financial leeway to consider those projects.
A look at PTA budgets in the 2016-2017 academic year revealed that funding per student ranged from $32 to $286, depending on the school.
COVID-19 revealed inequities in PTA funds
PTA funding inequities in D65 have been discussed since PEP was founded in 2016, and according to representatives from PEP, these inequities have grown throughout the pandemic.
PTAs across Districts 65 voted to donate their reserved accounts, or portions of it, to support needs related to food, technology, gas and other resources across the district.
According to Meghan Shea, current PEP Co-Chair, during these past two years of Covid 19, all schools in our community have struggled with similar needs: technology, food and housing insecurities- the PEP One Fund has been a way for us to address these issues collectively.
All D65 Schools are currently raising funds during this 2021/2022 school year for next year. PTA’s are able to use their redistributed allocation at each PTA’s own discretion under the shared agreement to use them equitably.
The native plant sale is happening now
The planning committee made up of PTA volunteers from a number of D65 schools hopes that the plant sale will help revitalize the natural local ecosystem while also infusing cash into the PEP One Fund.
The sale includes native wildflowers, grasses, sedges, shrubs and select trees. The planning committee chose the plants in conjunction with growers at Possibility Place, an Evanston-based nursery that specializes in native plants.
While the plants are meant for outdoors, “you can cut some of them and bring them in for bouquets or displays,” Marquez-Viso said.
Marquez-Viso said that many of these prairie plants grow very deep and will sequester rainwater and help improve resilience in soil health. So far, the fundraiser has sold over $13,000 worth of plants, and has received many donations of plants.
The fundraiser pre-sale will continue through March 14, and plants will be available for purchase through Saturday, May 14. The pick-up location is to be determined.
“In this urban-suburban environment, we can really make a difference, whether it’s on our schoolyards, or our own homes or apartment buildings,” Marquez-Viso said. “Every little patch of land is so critical to our revitalizing the natural ecosystem here and making a healthier environment for everybody.”