Is “Donors Choose” Right for Our Schools?

By Eric Braun

Is Donor's Choose Right for America's Schools?On September 11, 2015, the major television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX—simultaneously broadcast Think It Up, a celebrity-loaded telethon to raise money for public education in the United States. Put on by the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), the show featured more celebrities than an issue of People magazine, including Justin Bieber, Stephen Colbert, Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth Meyers, Kristen Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Lautner, Joe Manganiello, Matthew McConaughey, Jeremy Renner, and Jessica Williams. Viewers were encouraged to donate to Donors Choose (donorschoose.org) to support “student-powered, teacher-led” school projects.

A lavish, entertaining show. A great cause. All the major networks joining together in harmony. Few would argue that this was anything but positive.

But some educators say there is a problem here. They say that by giving to Donors Choose, a nonprofit crowdfunding organization that has been helping teachers fill financial shortfalls for years, we are shifting the focus of the education-funding conversation in the wrong direction. By donating directly to schools, we take the pressure off the government to properly fund education. As one blogger at the Daily Kos put it, “Why do [teachers] need to beg? Shouldn’t these teachers have money in the school budget for buying supplies?”

It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a mortal wound. If a teacher is working in a wealthy-enough district, he may get families and other locals to donate enough through Donors Choose to furnish his students with tablets (for example). That’s great. But what if that teacher is in a high-poverty district? Statistics provided by Donors Choose show that people are far more likely to make donations in or near their own zip codes. So those who work with disadvantaged students are asking for financial support from a disadvantaged community. With stronger funding for public education, which would be spent equally in all districts, this wouldn’t be such an issue.

It feels good to give to a worthy cause, and it’s gratifying to scroll through the Donors Choose site and see all the interesting projects being funded. But the more we rely on philanthropy to fund our classrooms, the more we may be leaving the most needy students out in the cold.

What do you think? Is it fair to force teachers to crowdsource the supplies they need? What can we do to fix the problem of underfunded classrooms? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Minneapolis writer Eric BraunEric Braun is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.


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