Public education is often fraught with economic woes, and many revolve around budget cuts. These cuts make it harder for teachers and administrators to purchase classroom supplies. Teachers who work within the New York City Department of Education get allocations for classroom spending, known as “Teacher’s Choice,” based on the number of courses they teach, for example. The amount of money has been pared down over the years, although it was renewed for this school year. Many school systems do provide such discretionary funds but others do not, and the amounts have often dwindled while costs of many supplies have increased.
Some teachers have opted to use crowd funding sites to fund certain projects and needs. Other teachers have made use of DonorsChoose.org, whose slogan is “Teachers Ask. You Choose.” This site has been in operation since 2000, and it has made an impact on schools: over 210,000 teachers have had their projects and classroom needs funded, over 60,000 schools have participated. Close to 1.6 millions donors have given on this site. The group offers a vivid, upbeat and varied website with many different ways for teachers to make appeals, for donors to help out, and for students to benefit. Corporations and big-name philanthropists such as Bill Gates have donated here. Donors Choice has received much positive press and encouragement.
But this group has also faced some criticism. A bit of it is about the website; AboutMoney states that “a link to ‘How it Works’ should be on the home page.” A teacher blogging at “Accountable Talk” claims that the organization “stabs teachers in the back,” when they promoted the anti-union, pro-charter school film “Waiting for Superman.”
Aside from these issues is a deeper worry: what if school districts, politicians and policy makers think that Donors Choose can provide so much for teachers and schools, that deeper budget cuts are viable and will not hurt education? There is this danger that public funding could be shaved even more, with the mindset that donations will take care of things. This is being seen at other social service organizations such as soup kitchens and food pantries, which have seen their public funding decreasing and their reliance upon charitable giving growing.
In an ideal world, teachers and their schools would have more than enough funding for school supplies. From the mundane needs (photocopier paper, pencils, software programs, volleyballs and such) to more specific and ambitious efforts (supplies for school bands, dramatic productions, science and social studies field trips), there is a need for money for schools. Most Americans perceive of schools as an integral investment in the progress of our society. But budget cuts can run deep. We all know teachers who have dipped into their own funds for classroom supplies (and I can state that I did it at times), and organizations such as Donors Choose are relied upon to fill in funding gaps.
?Ellen is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one ?day, if her publisher gives the green light.)