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My son's school (private 501(c)(3), middle-school) has tons of required donations. Is this legal?

San Francisco, CA |
Filed under: Education law

Parents have to participate in the school's numerous fund raisers ( 5 in one school year ) by donating goods worth of an X dollar amount , or do a buyout for an X dollar amount . Although the school transparently shows where the proceeds go ( all used toward school operational ) , but somehow it feels too much and questionable since they're non - profit . Why didn't they just put it all under tuition ?

Attorney Answers 4


  1. This is common and usual in private schools. Your recourse is take your child elsewhere. If you do not participate in these voluntary (!) activities and support drives, you may find that you don't have to decide to take your kid elsewhere -- the school may make that decision for you. You may also detect some subtle passive-aggressive conduct such as a barrage of requests, delays in providing transcripts, even screw-ups involving your kid's participation in student activities and such. Private schools don't bundle all of these costs into tuition and state that amount as the cost because they are competing in the marketplace for students. But all of them (at least all of the non-religious based ones) do this stuff and it is not unlawful.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.


  2. The previous poster is correct. I would add that the school most likely does not state outright that you must "donate" otherwise this is not technically considered a donation to the school since donations are voluntary.


  3. There are few restrictions on private schools in terms of fundraising. As long as the use the funds for the purposes specified in their corporate and IRS documents, there is no legal issue. You can try to find a less expensive private school or consider the public schools.


  4. Sometimes, organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) struggle to maintain their "public support" test, and try to boost "contributions from the general public" in this (somewhat underhanded) manner. I don't know if that is the case in this situation, but I'd be interested in pulling the school's form 990 and taking a look to see how they're accounting for these "donations" and why.

    On the plus side, though - as a "donation" you should receive a receipt from the school, in relation to these "donations," to use as a deduction on your personal income taxes. You wouldn't receive that benefit if those payments were integrated into the tuition or fees.

    May L. Harris, J.D., M.A.
    For Purpose Law Group, a PLC

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