Rotorua and Bay of Plenty schools received more than $6.2 million in donations last year.
Figures released by the Ministry of Education show donations to schools in the region have jumped by 14 per cent in the past three years, up from $5.5m in 2009.
The ministry defines donations as voluntary contributions identified by schools in their annual reports. They include parental contributions plus donations from other sources.
Figures for Rotorua are included in the wider Bay of Plenty region.
Top schools in the region have consistently raked in the most donations over the past three years.
Donations to decile 10 schools averaged $1.5m in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Tauranga's decile 10 Bethlehem College received the region's largest donation in 2011, registering $1,323,424.
Rotorua Lakes High School principal Bruce Walker said his school received about $20,000 in parental donations each year.
Parents were asked to pay a $30 general donation and $10 towards the library, he said.
"We get about 70 per cent of parents that pay it."
Sports uniforms, kapa haka and cultural trips were funded through donations, Mr Walker said.
Students whose parents were unable to pay the donation did not miss out on normal school activities, but were sometimes unable to participate in extra-curricular ones.
"If they haven't paid it and they want to take part in something like a sports team and we then subsidise that sports team on a trip - we won't subsidise ones that haven't paid [the donation]."
Nationally, schools raked in nearly $104 million in donations last year, up from about $99 million in 2010.
Over two-thirds of this went to schools in the three largest cities.
Auckland donations topped the country, with its schools registering more than $41.2m in donations last year.
Schools in the Wellington and Christchurch regions received about $15.8m and $10.5m respectively.
Principals' Federation president Paul Drummond said donation amounts were set by individual school boards.
"That amount can range from nothing to hundreds of dollars, depending on what that school community has agreed upon.
"Schools are very careful that they do it at a level that is going to be well received by their community."
Figures show boys' schools have received the largest amount in donations for three consecutive years.
Hutt International Boys' School received more than $2m in contributions last year.
The decile 10 Wellington school also took top spot in 2009, raking in $1.9m in voluntary contributions.
Auckland Grammar, a decile 10 college, reaped the most in voluntary contributions in 2010 with $1.8m.
Gisborne's decile one Cobham School received only $15 in donations last year - the lowest tally in the country.
At $18, donations to South Island primary school Clutha Valley was the lowest in 2010, and Bay of Plenty primary Kawerau North School received only $13 in contributions in 2009. Clutha Valley is a decile nine school while Kawerau North is decile one.
Mr Drummond said many schools relied on parental donations to cover basic operating costs, making it even tougher for communities.
"We haven't got a free education system that equates to what parents and students want it to be."
Schools in the mid-decile ratings often struggled the most with donations and funding.
Equity-targeted funding ensured decile one to three schools in poorer areas received more help from the ministry, he said.
"But decile four, five, six and seven schools do not - they get nothing.
"They might well be the schools most likely to struggle because they neither get the extra ministry funding nor the community that is able and willing to make donations."
How it tallies up
Total school donations nationally
- 2011: $103,942,059.
- 2010: $99,037,088.
- 2009: $99,736,884.
Total donations to Rotorua/Bay of Plenty schools:
- 2011: $6,267,532.
- 2010: $6,199,744.
- 2009: $5,484,472.
Source: Ministry of Education