How a school teacher raised $1M for educators around the U.S. — with help from Khloe Kardashian, Lance Bass and Kamala Harris

·4 min read

The start of this school year is certainly different than usual, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One thing that likely won’t change much? The need for teachers across the nation to have to dip into their own salaries to pay for classroom supplies, as it’s been estimated (pre-pandemic) that teachers spend an average of $479 per year out of pocket on their classrooms.

Educators are now faced with a likely increase in spending, for supplies needed to keep their classrooms both efficient and safe. And that has many worrying that their expenses will go above and beyond the federal $250 tax deduction available to teachers.

“The #ClearTheList movement is near and dear to my heart because my mom was a school teacher." Lance Bass

“I was very used to spending money out of my own pocket. My first year teaching, I spent over $2,500 for my classroom,” Courtney Jones, an elementary school teacher and founder of ClearTheList Foundation, told Yahoo Life. “I was like, there has to be a better way.”

The reasoning behind why teachers are paying out of pocket, she says, isn’t one-size-fits-all. Depending on the district or state, funds available to classroom supplies are allocated differently. But ultimately, the outcome is one that affects the teachers who want to provide their students with the best learning experience possible. “[The costs] really go up if you get into underserved communities or [for] new teachers just coming fresh into the field. It really is just astronomical,” Jones explains.

Courtney Jones, Founder of ClearTheList Foundation (Courtesy of David Schmidt)
Courtney Jones, Founder of ClearTheList Foundation (Courtesy of David Schmidt)

Fed up with seeing her fellow teachers struggle, Jones decided to get creative. The Texas teacher took to Facebook in hopes of bringing together a supportive community of teachers and it was met with overwhelming support. At that moment, the #ClearTheLists movement was started.

“I thought maybe a couple hundred teachers would join and we would just send gifts to each other to raise spirits,” she says. “In three weeks, we had over 30,000 members. In a month and a half, we had over 125,000. So it just really exploded really fast. And I realized that there was a pervasive issue here across the country.”

Now ClearTheList is much more than a social media movement, evolving into a nonprofit due to its success. “I was very relentless because it was an issue that I felt needed to be addressed,” Jones says. “It was one thing to create a social media movement and for it to have that initial success, but I didn't want it to die out.”

That perseverance has gained the attention of celebrities and organizations who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. That includes Lance Bass, who described the importance of ClearTheList to Yahoo Life, “The ClearTheList movement is near and dear to my heart, because my mom was a school teacher,” he says. “Teacher’s spend so much of their own money on school supplies because most school districts cannot afford to buy them… [I] do fundraisers every month, and every August I raise money for #ClearTheList to do my part to help get teachers supplies that they need.”

Other celebs who have thrown their support behind the nonprofit include Khloe Kardashian, Kamala Harris and Jeffree Star — and Jones is newly inspired by support from the Clorox Company, which has teamed up with ClearTheList to start an initiative stemming from a $1 million donation, aimed at funding and providing new opportunities for students and teachers alike. The effort brings with it a $25,000 sweepstake for schools and individual grant programs of up to $500 each.

“They get the issue, they understand how pervasive it is,” Jones says about Clorox, adding that it is “so amazing to see a company understand it,” particularly because “their products are so important for classrooms right now.”

Teachers heading back to classrooms are worried about a lot right now — their safety, kids’ safety, social distancing, PPE materials, sanitizing their classrooms and much more. “Try to just get into a teacher's shoes and understand where they're at,” Jones says. “They're trying to protect themselves and their families at home, but they're trying to protect their students above all. And they need help.” Luckily, they’ve found it through her foundation, and the generosity of its supporters, with over $1.2 million raised for this back-to-school season already.

“This,” she says simply, “helps alleviate the stress on a teacher's finances.”

To apply for the sweepstakes or donate to the cause, visit clearthelistfoundation.org and clorox.com/support-our-teachers

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