Donors Choose Helps Public School Teachers Get the Supplies They Need

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Every campaign season, candidates focus their campaigns, at least partially, on making our schools better. Despite the government spending, on average, more than $12,000 per child (2012) every year, schools still lack supplies. Public school teachers, whose pockets are already tight, regularly spend their own money to provide essential items their students need.

In 2000, public school teacher Charles Best found himself in this exact predicament. He stood photocopying the only copy  of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie available in the Bronx, New York high school where he taught. The fact there was only one copy of the famous book for the entire school was absurd. He thought of how much he had already spent on his students and how much other teachers were spending on their classes. The Yale graduate was determined to find a way to shift the burden from the teachers’ already cash-strapped shoulders to the wider community. Surely, if people knew how much even a dozen copies of Little House on the Prairie could help these inner-city children, they’d be willing to help.

And so, Best took his idea to the internet and launched DonorsChoose.org, a website where teachers can share their classrooms’ needs. Staff study teachers’ proposals to make sure they meet organizational standards and then post them to the website so donors can choose which projects they’d like to fund. The supporter then sends however much money he or she chooses to fund the project—even as little as $1. As soon as the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose buys all of the resources and supplies the teacher needs and sends them to the specific school. Thanks to these donations, the students partake in educational experiences they typically wouldn’t. As a sign of their gratitude, students and teachers send thank you letters to every person that donated to their cause. Donors also receive a print out of how all of the money was spent and a picture of the students. Every cent donated toward the project is also tax deductible.

So, what kind of effect has DonorsChoose had on the education system? In almost 16 years, 69 percent of public schools have posted a request on DonorsChoose.org, more than 2 million individuals, along with corporate donors, have donated almost $419 million and more than 18 million students have benefited from the program. The donations have provided students with books, art supplies, school supplies, computer equipment, field trips and other necessary educational tools that we often take for granted. Its excellent vision and impact have led people like comedian Stephen Colbert, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and author Jonathan Alter to join its Board of Directors and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Goldman Sachs partner Scott Rofey and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to join its National Advisory Council.

One remarkable aspect of DonorsChoose is “flash funding.” It  started in May 2015 when Stephen Colbert decided to fund, all at once, the projects in his home state of South Carolina, grants that equaled $800,000. This, in turn, inspired others that same week to fund projects in the cities of San Fransisco and Richmond, California and Boston, Massachusetts, along with those in the entire states of Missouri and Nebraska. This year, more than 50 celebrities, business professionals and athletes decided to top that by giving $14 million, funding more than half of the projects currently listed on DonorsChoose.org. Thanks to people like Gwenyth Paltrow, Ashton Kutcher, Bill and Melinda Gates, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, states like Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana and the 50 poorest counties in the nation will have all of their projects funded.

Best’s story is yet another example of one person seeing a need and dreaming up a way of fixing it. Thanks to Best’s hard work, millions of people have donated to their local schools knowing that their money will be spent where it’s intended rather than lining the pocket of corrupt officials, going to vanity projects or even stopped by teacher’s unions protests. His initiative has allowed Americans, ever-so-generous, to continue caring for their neighbors. And it’s programs like DonorsChoose.org that will take the best care of our children, not, as politicians will often say, paying more in taxes.

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