Teachers and parents: Two of the biggest influences in a child’s life. It seems natural that they would work together for young people’s welfare. But many families are giving a failing grade to the Parent Teacher Association, claiming they are focusing more on politics than pupils.

"Very publicly, they say, ‘We want to be the voice in Washington for children,’" said Tim Sullivan of PTO Today, a multi-media company dedicated to helping parent groups help their schools. "It’s a great goal. I wish them all the luck in the world."

The century-old PTA is the first national parent-teacher organization established in this country. But lately it’s been criticized for its close relationship with teachers’ unions and for its positions on political issues like school vouchers and Bush’s tax cut, which it opposes, and the Million Mom March and sex education, which it supports.

"PTA is a child advocacy organization," said local PTA president Cynthia Chaney. "We are here for the benefit of all children; we are here to teach tolerance."

That agenda has the organization struggling with floundering membership, which is half the size it was 30 years ago. Many communities have started their own groups, in which they feel their voices will be heard and PTA politics left out.

"I hear people say, ‘Golly the PTA says vouchers are bad, but I like vouchers. Why would I want to be part of a group which is against my personal opinion?’" said Sullivan.

PTA leaders don’t think it’s politics that’s driving away new members.

"Parents are freaked out at the state of the schools," said Chaney. ‘People feel like they have to take action and that’s what’s happening."

Leaders of independent parent-teacher organizations say they’re not trying to fight the PTA, but do what the association was formed to do in the first place — before it became a political power broker.