RTRL.42: Music Booster Groups and Funding Inequality (Elpus & Grisé, 2019)


Elpus, K., & Grisé, A. (2019). Music booster groups: Alleviating or exacerbating funding inequality in American public school music education. Journal of Research in Music Education, 67(1), 6-22. 

What did the researchers want to know?

What were key financial and demographic characteristics of U.S. music booster groups in 2015, and how does the amount raised by booster groups relate to household income in the community served?

What did the researchers do?

Elpus and Grisé assembled a dataset from publicly available information. This included IRS nonprofit tax return data from 2015. After going extensive lengths to find and record financial information for 5,575 music booster groups from across the U.S., Elpus and Grisé gathered 2015 U.S. Census data pertaining to the annual household income for the city in which each booster group resided and added this to the database. Finally, they calculated a variety of statistics and conducted statistical analyses to answer their research questions.

What did the researchers find?

The states containing the most booster groups were Texas (n = 846), California (n = 594), and Ohio (n = 431). The state with the fewest was Wyoming (n = 1). Elpus and Grisé identified four groups that earned over $1 million in revenue, all of which were in Texas or California. Close examination showed that the group with the second highest revenue “was responsible for raising funds to provide annual salary and benefits for multiple music teachers in the district’s elementary and middle schools, which would not have had music ensembles in the absence of private fundraising. Many of these funds were raised by mandatory contributions from the families of students enrolled in music education” (p. 16).

To examine the relationship between booster group fundraising and household income, Elpus and Grisé looked at whether each booster group filed a Form 990-N (annual income up to $50,000), a Form 990-EZ (annual income between $50,001 and $199,999), or a full Form 990 (annual income of $200,000 or more). They then recorded the median household income within each booster group’s ZIP code to calculate whether the three filing groups differed in average median household income. ANOVA results showed significant differences between the average median household incomes for all three groups. In other words, music booster groups that raised more funds were more likely to reside in communities with higher median household incomes. Further analysis (fixed effects regression model) revealed that, for every additional $1,000 in local median household income, a Form 990-EZ-filing group raises an additional $305 in revenue while a full Form 990-filing group raises an additional $1,637 in revenue.

What does this mean for my classroom?

While it may be make us feel good to believe that music booster groups provide funding for under-resourced music programs, the reality is that booster groups generating more revenue serve schools in wealthier communities, and community wealth tends to also be correlated with public school funding. Thus, not only do booster groups not level the playing field for under-funded music programs, they actually exacerbate funding inequality.

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