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The Difference Between PTAs and PTOs

Updated: May 26, 2023

Did you know that Parent Teacher Associations and Parent Teacher Organizations have a meaningful difference? This blog will discuss that difference and what that might mean to you as a parent or association leader.

Parents meeting in a Classroom
PTA Meeting

Difference Between PTA & PTO

The National Parent Teacher Association is a 120-year-old organization that has long advocated for children at the federal level. It has a network of over 4 million families that work to improve our children's organization. If your organization is labeled a PTA, you have access to this network and the benefits thereof. You have access to additional resources at the state and national level in two main ways. The latter is available at pta.org. The former differs by state, but know that a state organization with leadership is always available to help. You can get additional details about what state PTAs do by listening to the New Mexico PTA President on this episode of the Multipurpose Room podcast. Whether you go to your state or nation for resources, here is generally what you will find:

  • Grants: This is one of the greatest benefits and is often underused. At any given time, several grant opportunities are available at the state or federal level. Each grant is typically directed at a certain area, e.g., STEM or ArtsEd, and requires a short submission related to what you will do with the grant. You can find some grant writing tips here and here.

  • Guidance on Running Your PTA: There are several resources such as example by-laws, advice on hosting meetings, advice on running fundraisers, etc. There was a wealth of information on navigating COVID when the pandemic first hit.

  • Social Media: In particular, the state-level PTAs are good about sending out items to share on social media. This makes getting notices out on your social media accounts easier and allows you to keep things fresh.

  • Advocacy Resources: There is an annual conference, LegCon, that shares the National PTA's federal advocacy priorities for the year and gives detailed information on the focus issues. There are resources from background to example letters to your legislators. There are also resources around many other issues that face our educational system. So, if you want to advocate for an issue, there is likely a position statement.

  • People: There are PTA leaders in roles dedicated to supporting membership. These people have seen a lot of different things in the PTA world and are usually able to give great advice or point you in the right direction on any issue.

On the other hand, a PTO (parent-teacher organization) is typically focused on the issues in their own school or district. PTOs are often connected with a district-wide organization. As a result, there tends to be less ability to organize nationally and advocate for federal change. However, many of the resources still exist through a district network. In addition, as a PTO leader, you can still get a personal membership to a PTA organization. You can avail yourself of many of the resources mentioned above, including advocacy and written information.

Sign in neon white
Do Something Great Sign

Whether you are a PTA or PTO, the mission typically involves supporting our children in their educational journey. This is important work, and the format through which you participate in this work is much less important than the impact you can make. Many studies show how important parent involvement in education is to our kids, so keep up the great work!


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