“Citizen Philanthropy” Website Helps with Classroom Supplies

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September 24, 2012; Source: Philadelphia Daily News

Charity website DonorsChoose.org is taking online donations and bringing needed supplies to public school classrooms. The Philadelphia school district has benefited from this website, and the Philadelphia Daily News recently interviewed several teachers about their DonorsChoose projects. The Philly teachers state that they pay between $800 and $1,500 of their own money for their students to have the materials they need to learn. Elementary school teacher Jennifer Fagan said she has “never met a teacher who didn’t pay for items over the course of a school year.” DonorChoose.org allows teachers to create projects to articulate their classroom conditions and the supplies needed, which can then attract online donors; the organization categorizes this crowdfunding model as “citizen philanthropy.”

DonorsChoose.org got underway at a Bronx high school where teachers and student were suffering from the scarcity of school supplies and learning materials. In 2000, a social sciences teacher, Charles Best, started DonorsChoose.org so “individuals could connect directly with classrooms in need.” Earlier this year, DonorsChoose.org was at the center of a minor controversy when Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” comic strip referenced the site, which has reportedly provided classroom materials to Trudeau’s son, who is a teacher. There are other online giving programs that support teachers in similar fashion; for instance, the Reddit community has a gift exchange program for teachers that has sparked donations ranging from art and chemistry supplies to National Geographic DVDs.

Crowdfunding websites like DonorsChoose.org are invaluable sources for teachers in public schools that continue to suffer from static or shrinking budgets, but this story also raises the question of what it says about our national education policy when teachers are forced to dip into their own pockets—or into donors’ pockets—for supplies rather than looking to government funding. –Aine Creedon

  • Charlotte Pryor, Ph.D.

    It is a shame to see public schools relying on philanthropy to obtain needed learning supplies. This is not a step in a good direction and I fear it may only serve to justify inappropriate cuts to public education. The “public” in public education should mean just that, the support of public resources for the core value of an educated citizenry.