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Texas State University

Crowdfunding has become important to Texas classroom teachers

Research and Innovation

Julie Cooper | July 10, 2019

Apple on top of a stack of textbooks
Dr. Brett Lee

In 2018 the National Center for Education Statistics released an article indicating 94% of teachers spend their own money for classroom supplies, but do not get reimbursed.  In that year the average U.S. teacher spent an average of $479 in personal funds for supplies. The federal tax deduction for educator expenses is  $250. 

Fundraising for schools has come a long way from car washes and bake sales.  Using the internet to raise money enables teachers to reach a wider audience, outside the community. Donations are also tax deductible because a such crowdfunding source like DonorsChoose is a 501 (c)3 charity. 

This may be why crowdfunding has become an important function for today’s teachers, according to Texas State University’s Dr. Brett Lee.  A lecturer in the Department of Occupational Workforce and Leadership Studies,  Lee’s doctoral dissertation centered on the growing popularity behind crowdfunding, and specifically how teachers are using DonorsChoose.org to make up for  budget shortfalls.  

“Currently 81% of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has posted a project on DonorsChoose.org,” Lee said.  When he began his research in 2016, the site listed 74% of all schools. “According to my calculations, this 7% increase represents approximately 6,800 schools that have jumped on the bandwagon in three years. On average, that’s 180 schools signing up to try crowdfunding each month.” That figure, he explained, is from DonorsChoose.org, which was launched by a New York  teacher in 2000.   

 “What I found is teachers who crowd fund on social media benefited from the personal or school social media accounts — specifically  Facebook,” Lee  said.  “Some 75% of projects are from schools where half or more students are from low-income households. Basically, I found it really interesting that teachers who are using it the most are doing it well and are the ones in schools facing serious economic issues.”  

  Did the results of his research have any surprises for Lee?  “Teachers in Title I schools overwhelmingly leveraged their ability to write proposals and present a compelling need statement to overcome the lack they observed within their classrooms.  They sought to address crosstown inequities and in one case in school disparities between English and bilingual classrooms in the same building,” he said.

“Interestingly, crowdfunding bridges social media, civic-minded philanthropy, and community development. Each person who donates can  determine which school, classroom, and type of product or service they want to underwrite.  Crowdfunding provides a window into the classroom; it opens the school to the community,” he said.  “One campus was raising funds for dictionaries. That was a shock to me, because you would think a school would have plenty of dictionaries available. But they needed to be sure every student had a dictionary when taking standardized tests.”

 When a project/request is funded through DonorsChoose the site purchases the requested items and ships directly to the school. The web site explains that every donor gets a thank-you letter, photos from the classroom, and a report on how each dollar was  spent. Some U.S. school districts, including Nashville, Tennessee, have banned schools from crowdfunding. When asked about this, Lee points to national news stories where superintendents have come out in favor of crowdfunding and he points out that “administrators need to know there are differences.”  He explains that teachers are not seeking big-ticket items like computers, but such things as books, flexible seating, manipulatives and other teaching materials.   

As far as advice to teachers on crowdfunding Lee said: “Gain the support of your campus administrator.   Make sure the principal understands that the items will stay with the school.  Sharing success stories and links to past proposals that achieved funding demonstrates to district leaders crowdfunding does not interfere with education but supports it and propels it in directions school budgets currently cannot accommodate. If the principal sees the type of items that will be donated to a teacher and ultimately the school, they will be less unlikely to refuse.”

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922