Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Shout Out to DonorsChoose

As a public school teacher at a low-income school in California (a state ranked 48th in education spending) I spend tons of money on my classroom - from the start of the year with new school supplies like folders, crayons, and pencil boxes and throughout the year with various materials for day-to-day work, lessons, and parties.  Each year about 5% of my take home salary is spent on supplies for my classroom.  I don’t mind the expense at all, but it does add up.  Which means there are times that because of the regular expenses, I can’t afford to do some of the extra, project-based things that make learning more fun.

Enter  In 2000, Charles Best, a New York public school teacher, started DonorsChoose.  Knowing that many people want to donate to education but don’t always know how or for what, the website was created to link up teachers who have incredible classroom projects that need funding with individuals and corporations who want to donate.  DonorsChoose has raised over $170,000,000 and has funded over 140,000 public school teacher projects.  Their donation/funding statistics are really incredible.  In addition to connecting donors to teacher projects, they also have a huge corporate following which allows them to offer “matching donations” throughout that year.  That means that during a set period of time, any donation made to a teacher project is doubled, allowing a project to be funded even faster.

Over a year ago I attended an art class, and another participant, who was a retired teacher, told me about DonorsChoose.  I had written the name down in my sketchbook and frantically searched for it when a need arose about a month later.  I was in the process of creating a take-home “book in a bag” reading library in my classroom of AR leveled books.  I had some to start the library, but not nearly enough to keep it going for very long.  I decided to put together a project on the website and see what happened.  The teacher needs to put forth some effort into putting together a project proposal which includes the what and the why and the how and the cost of the project.  After submitting my project for the take-home books on the website, I received confirmation that the project was posted.  At that time I sent out the project to my friends and family (as recommended) and typed up a letter to my students’ parents.  That same day I sent my letter in to be translated.  By the next day my project had funded – I hadn’t even received the translated letter back yet.  Between my friends and family and our local Horace Mann office my project funded within 24 hours. I was dumbfounded!  Within a couple of weeks, the books arrived and were part of my library immediately.  It was so exciting!

In all, I have funded 4 projects over the last year through  In addition to the books, I’ve received two subscriptions to Time for Kids, level 1 and 2 and Scholastic News, level 1 and 2, an iPad, and most recently (funded just last week) art supplies to create a classroom shadow puppet theater.  This newest one funded within 12 hours, and other than a donation from my mom and a gift card redeemed by me, I didn’t know any of the donors and one was even an anonymous donor from out-of-state.  I find it so amazing that people who don’t even know me or my students are willing to contribute to education.  It’s so refreshing.  My kids are going to love creating puppet performances to show what they’ve learned.  I can’t wait for the materials to arrive.

Teachers are, most of the time, in the hot seat, especially during difficult economic times and intense political debates.  We’ve been blamed for an archaic educational system, (which we have no control over by the way – no one ever asks us), standardized testing, the utter demise of our economy, crime rates, you name it, it’s our fault.  But taking a look at the number of teachers who are creating innovative and engaging projects on the DonorsChoose website, there is so much good happening out there with public education, despite its numerous challenges.  Thanks to DonorsChoose for making that happen!


  1. Congrats!
    I had hand bells funded by Donor's Choose...but most of the things I need I can't get from their catalogs...but I did get 3 small grants this year :)

    Can you believe I am using the same pencil boxes in my classroom from when my son was in 2nd grade? I decided not to give them to the students that year and have been using them ever since. I got them for 19 cents each. He is a junior in college! They are still in good condition!

    Happy Thursday!

    1. Yah, that is a problem some of the time. I read on their blog that they've been trying to swing a deal with amazon, but it's not working out for some reason. Dick Blick is their art supplier though which I LOVE!
      Congrats on the grants. I love those. I got one this year too. I'll share more once I've got it up and running.
      Ya ya ya, you've already rubbed it in about your pencil boxes. They are such crap now and 3x as much. Some don't even last the year.

  2. I read this yesterday but hadn't time to respond.
    I find it disgraceful you have to provide stuff nevermind use your own money so you can do your job. And I find it shocking that in the wealthiest place in the world such a charity is required at all.
    It might be an idea to chat to you're union or a friend who is a very good tax accountant. You might be able to offset your time and cash against tax when you buy stuff. Why should the people in the public system be hived off from the goodies so available to the private. Your 'parents' might be able to do something similar.
    Sometimes what they do here is run a lotto. 42 numbers 6 drawn and 50% of the moneys collected put into the prize. Depending on the catchment you grow a fund at a remarkable rate.

    1. Ya, it's a bummer. I'm actually very lucky (if you can believe it) because my district does provide a lot of the essentials like paper, pencils,
      crayons, copies. There are a lot of districts that don't even do that. It's the extras that are limited; the things that really make a difference.

      Don't get me started on the fact that Hollywood and movie making is a stone's throw away, making gobs of money, but somehow CA is literally still broke. We do have a state lottery with quite a bit of money allotted to education. We're not really sure where it goes though - the payouts to winners are HUGE but so are the cuts to education.

      I do use a tax man who lets me write-off some of the expenses - the amount
      of educational expenses has also been cut in the recent years, but I do get to deduct some. In fact, that reminds me my tax appt is next week, so I'd better get started gathering those receipts.

  3. I live in Chicagoland and support a class in my neighborhood every Fall when the new school year starts. But then I forget. And I shouldn't because the need is all year long, isn't it? I'll go check DonorsChoose again right now!