Raising outside funds for schools is a time-honored tradition that goes back to the very first bake sale. But in recent years, as online crowdfunding has gained popularity, more educators are turning to popular sites like DonorsChoose and GoFundMe to supplement their teaching supplies and fund experiences like school trips and professional development that they might not otherwise have access to as budgets shrink. However, as funding inequities have worsened, some teachers are raising funds for basics (like a computer to continue virtual education, or much-needed cleaning supplies for in-person teaching during the pandemic). While some educators see this as the best option to quickly get students what they need, others wonder if crowdfunding lets legislators off the hook to fairly fund schools.

The Inquirer turned to two Philly teachers to debate: Should teachers crowdfund for supplies?

Yes: My students shouldn’t have to wait for legislators to get their acts together.

By Leslie Grace

In 2013, I was hired by the School District of Philadelphia and placed in a North Philly school, where I was not provided a budget. The leftover supplies that I did have access to were covered in mice droppings and roach eggs.

I started buying all my own supplies and sharing wishlists on social media until someone informed me about this crowdfunding platform for teachers to get supplies and resources called DonorsChoose. I seized the opportunity! However, I still contributed from my paycheck to my DonorsChoose campaigns, especially when fund matching was offered, as the deal was just too good to pass up. That first year in the district was not easy. I was at a rough school and engagement was low, but at least DonorsChoose made it possible for me to have the supplies needed to do my job. That was one less battle I had to fight.

In the years since I have had 38 projects funded. I have raised over $40,000 through DonorsChoose for my classroom and professional needs. I agree that teachers should not be expected to fund-raise for their classrooms, as we already take on so much. But I believe that crowdfunding can help bring equity to our classrooms.

I can be an impatient person. I should not have to wait and rely on bureaucrats to figure out their systems and processes, and to find the spare change in their budgets to throw at my classroom. I want my city students to have everything that affluent suburban districts have. DonorsChoose allows me a platform for action and to fund my program the way I imagine it. I can still fight for fair and equitable funding while also providing for my students.

“I believe that crowdfunding can help bring equity to our classrooms.”

Leslie Grace

Besides aiding my ability to provide basic supplies for my classroom in the past, crowdfunding has also allowed me to update the furniture in my classroom with new tables, stools, and storage. If you’ve ever been in some of the older School District buildings, you might have noticed the lack of cabinets and shelving. Teachers tend to scrounge through the building to find furniture, all of which are pretty banged up, rusty, and unstable. Could I have made do with the old mismatching tables and random chairs that were all breaking? Sure. Should I have to? No, and especially not when I know how to take action to upgrade.

The other benefit I have reaped from crowdfunding is paying for my professional development. Unfortunately, when teachers pursue opportunities outside of district events for professional development, they are forced to pay for it, especially if you are in the arts. So district art teachers are often shelling out their own money to attend conferences, workshops, master’s programs. Sites like DonorsChoose allow teachers to submit for funding to cover some, if not all, of whatever professional development teachers are seeking.

Teachers can also fund field trips and class visitors (even virtually to accommodate for our current situation).

While I would love our legislators to properly fund our schools, the thing I value most is the ability to give my students the best learning experiences. Thanks to crowdfunding, I’m able to do that.

Leslie Grace has been teaching visual arts for 17 years, and currently teaches at Nebinger Elementary in South Philadelphia. Ms. Grace also serves as the founder and organizer of the Philadelphia Art Teachers Alliance and president of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association.

No: Teachers are already forced to do too many jobs.

By Quinn O’Callaghan

We often make a mistake in how we appraise things that we need to survive. If you’re starving to death, it’s good to eat garbage because it’ll keep you alive, but that doesn’t mean eating garbage, or the concept of starving to death, is good. It’s good that crowdfunding for teachers exists, but that doesn’t mean that the concept of crowdfunding for teachers is good.

When it comes to public responsibilities, schools are probably the most overburdened institutions in the country, and teachers the most overburdened workers. In the neighborhoods they serve, schools — especially those in poor cities like Philadelphia — work as centers of mental health service and provide health care, often gratis. One of their primary functions is to assist students and their families in attaining food security, as well as vital internet access.

In a more functional society, these services wouldn’t be stacked up into one single, understaffed building per neighborhood. They would be separate offices — robust, well-planned, and permanent. But in America — and more specifically, in American cities — the responsibility for the health and safety of the most purposefully deprived and underserved people has been remanded to educators and education administration.

“[Crowdfunding is] just one more responsibility, one more stressor, that educators have to take on.”

Quinn O'Callaghan

I don’t bring this up because I want you to pity us teachers. It’s because I want you to think about what we’ve allowed to happen. Think about the decades of hollowing out the education system, and centuries of economic immiseration of people of color. Think about how we’ve created systems that undermine dignity and created a society where it’s necessary for kids to get dental appointments from school, and for schools to serve as one of the only points of assistance for entire neighborhoods during a pandemic.

These are things that shouldn’t happen in the richest country in the world. These are things that should be shocking, and if you imposed these realities on a richer school, they wouldn’t stand for it. But because we’ve conditioned ourselves to accept less and less and less, it’s fine, part and parcel of the flow of the life of educators in America.

Which brings us back to crowdfunding for teachers. It’s good, yes, that there is at least some chance for teachers to beg for equity, but it is shocking and wrong that it’s come to this. The bricks of the facade of public education have been removed so quietly and steadily that we didn’t even notice, and now, this thing that should be an embarrassment and an indignity is just one more responsibility, one more stressor, that educators have to take on, as though fund-raising should be part of the job.

Even though I want to give my students the best experience possible, I refuse to crowdfund for classroom resources. I understand and respect why other teachers do it, but the existence of crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose and GoFundMe are symptoms of a society that has accepted that it doesn’t have the wherewithal or will to fund obvious civic goods, like health care or education. What we need is our legislators at the local, state, and federal levels to provide fair funding for education so that students across the country get equitable experiences. It shouldn’t matter if you teach in a rich district or a poor one. Teachers should have access to the same materials regardless of geography because students have done nothing to deserve unequal treatment.

This can’t be how things are. Teachers need more, not the opportunity to beg for more. Remember always: The more you tell them you’re willing to give up, the more they’ll try to take from you.

Quinn O’Callaghan is a teacher in Philadelphia. @gallandguile

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