As public education grapples with debilitating budget cuts nationwide, teachers have begun to take advantage of a virtually free, unfettered resource for the classroom expenses they can’t afford: crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and DonorsChoose. But in a move that has confused and angered many educators, some school districts are creating barriers to participate in crowdfunding — or banning the practice altogether.
Theresa Maynard, an Ohio teacher who asked to be identified with a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that teachers in her area have been asked to cut their budgets by 30 percent every year for the last three years, leaving her with just $3 per student for supplies. “It’s unbelievably ridiculous. You can’t even buy markers for that much for each student,” Maynard says.
To obtain the supplies she needed to teach, Maynard made a classroom wish list and posted it on her personal social media accounts. But at the start of the school year, she says her school district notified its teachers via email that it would be implementing a stringent policy on crowdfunding, which led her to take the post down.
In an email obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle, a member of the finance department from the Defiance City Schools district in Ohio (the region in which Maynard works) outlines a long, rigorous application for teachers who are interested in crowdfunding to acquire supplies. Among the 10 required steps are sending a detailed budget, a full supply list and an explanation of how the individual supplies will be used. The email also includes provisions regarding when teachers can work on the campaign, how their biographical information will appear and the overall “narrative” that they plan to use for the campaign.
“Postings should in no way state or imply that the funds and/or equipment/supplies received through the crowdfunding campaign are necessary in order for students to be appropriately served and educated,” the email reads. On top of the cumbersome approval process, Maynard says she experienced administrators actively discouraging her and others from crowdfunding, telling them that doing so could be grounds for dismissal.
“[Administrators] told us that basically according to Ohio revised code that crowdfunding in Ohio is illegal for all teachers because of the teaching code of ethics,” says Maynard. “This action by our school administration is just one more roadblock for a teacher to help provide tools for our classroom that could provide the best learning environments.”
In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Defiance City Schools Superintendent Robert Morton disputed Maynard’s claim that she was blocked from crowdfunding. “I don’t know who would do that,” says Morton. “My suggestion to the administrators was that you have people who have engaged in this without doing the paperwork. Use the crowdfunding pages and do it properly so the school district doesn’t have an audit case. ... We just have to make sure we’re doing that in accordance with the law.” Morton says he has already approved a few projects and that he sees “a lot of potential” for teachers to use it.
For Maynard, the roadblocks and scare tactics were enough to make her stop crowdfunding entirely. Out of fear that she could lose her job, Maynard deactivated her wish list and deleted the social media posts. While she says she has the ability to pay for classroom supplies out of pocket, she doesn’t know how many new teachers will be able to afford to do the same.
Her story is one of many. According to a 2018 report from Ohio’s state auditor, 67 school districts in the state alone ban teachers from crowdfunding entirely. But it’s not the only state limiting teachers’ ability to find support. Restrictions have been shared in states like Maryland and Tennessee as well. Metro Nashville Public Schools banned all crowdfunding sites earlier this year, citing fears that educators may use crowdfunding to fill their own wallets instead. Other districts expressed concerns about tracking crowdfunding campaigns and donations and potentially creating inequities among classrooms, which was a concern that the administrators at Maynard’s school floated as well.
The pushback comes at a difficult time for teachers in America, the majority of whom can’t make ends meet with their teaching salary alone — much less afford to fund their classrooms. But according to a July survey from Fishbowl, 96 percent of teachers say they are paying for their own school supplies — spending, on average, $479 each year (Maynard says she spends upwards of $5,000). Reasons like this are exactly why DonorsChoose or campaigns like #clearthelist have proven so crucial in helping to fill the funding gaps in education by allowing the public to help pay for classroom expenses.
“Crowdsourcing is a way to get basic supplies in districts where funds are nonexistent or they have small budgets,” Courtney Jones, a Texas elementary school teacher who helped start the #clearthelist initiative, explains to Yahoo Lifestyle. “For others, it allows teachers to have autonomy and independence in their craft and provides an avenue for them to build the classroom they feel their students deserve.”
While DonorsChoose allows teachers to pitch classroom projects to anonymous donors, funding 1,518,560 teacher projects since 2000, the viral #clearthelist campaigns harness the power of social media to get strangers online to help pay for items on teachers’ classroom wish lists. Celebrities like Busy Philipps and Kristen Bell have even joined in helping teachers crowdfund for classroom supplies.
Charles Best, the founder of DonorsChoose, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he believes crowdfunding platforms actually help combat inequality in education by providing equal opportunity for funding.
“As a teacher, you do not have to have friends with money, you do not have to have students or parents with money to bring a project to life,” Best tells Yahoo Lifestyle, adding that the vast majority of the money given through the site goes to schools in low-income communities. DonorsChoose also purchases the supplies requested by teachers and sends it straight to their classrooms, preventing teachers from profiting off projects, and provides free reporting to help administrators track the funds and supplies going into their districts. He says that stopping teachers from crowdfunding is just “painful.”
“There are many students who are going without books, without art supplies, without resources because of their district’s restrictions on crowdfunding,” Best says. “It makes teachers’ jobs tougher, and it makes student learning just a bit more difficult.”
Maynard echoes Best’s sentiment. “I don’t understand how they expect us to have a classroom that’s conducive to learning when they’re limiting us so much and not providing necessary items to teach the kids,” she says. “I’ve been teaching for 19 years for the same school district, and I feel like this is one of the biggest disservices they’ve ever done to our students.”
Worst of all, Maynard says that without the ability to ask for help, the burden now falls back on teachers to fill in the gap. “The reality is that I’ll just have to spend more of my own money if I want the kids to be able to succeed,” says Maynard. “There’s just no way that it can be done. ... If you want to have a good learning environment for your kids, [you have] to pay for it on your own.”
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