Teachers using donor websites to fund classrooms

OSCEOLA COUNTY — With budgets of school districts tighter than ever, teachers looking to acquire additional materials or activities for their classrooms must find an alternative source of funding.

Crowd-funding websites like DonorsChoose.org and AdoptaClassroom.org allow individuals from all over the world to donate money to a cause of their choice. Communities, nonprofits and adults can set up an account and ask for donations toward medical assistance, city upgrades, food drives and many other types of projects.

Teachers also have the opportunity to ask for donations for class field trips, supplies and more through the same websites, and districts are creating policies to ensure proper use of the websites and money from donors.

Each district within the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District and St. Peter's Lutheran School has at least one classroom seeking donations on Donor's Choose or Adopt a Classroom.

Tim Webster, superintendent for Reed City Area Public Schools, said the district only recently created a policy concerning crowd-funding websites. Now, teachers must ask permission from their building administrator before requesting donations, and requested items must be items the classroom needs — not something preferred over items supplied by the district.

"We have similar rules in place for grants, but it never applied for crowd-funding," Webster said. "If teachers sign up for one of these sites, we want to monitor that. Communication is important and we need to make sure it's open so we're asking the community for things we really need."

Before the policy at RCAPS was in place, Sue Rice, a third-grade teacher at GT Norman Elementary School, received six student tables and two group tables from individuals donating through Donor's Choice. The tables replaced older, individual desks in her classroom, and the $2,000 donation was raised in only three weeks.

"These tables allow us to get to work right away and not waste time getting things out of desks," Rice said. "It feels spectacular to receive the donations because I think we work hard and it shows everyone we have community support."

Other GT Norman teachers, including Dawn Hilliard and Holly Mund, also have received items from Donor's Choose, including Chromebooks and a mini refrigerator to keep nutritional items cold.

Webster is supportive of teachers using the websites if they follow policy rules.

"If people want to donate for something that's above and beyond what the district will provide, I think it's a very nice thing," he said. "It's a very cool thing and sometimes people are generous, but we want to make sure we're using those donations wisely."

Four teachers with Morley Stanwood Community Schools have registered their needs on Adopt a Classroom. According to Superintendent Roger Cole, the district has no policy regarding crowd-funding donations. Nevertheless, he feels positively about teachers taking the opportunity.

"Considering the school funding in our state, I think it's a good idea," Cole said. "When you feel passionately about your job, you do whatever you can. We have teachers who write grants and contribute to their classrooms out of their own pockets."

Though using crowd-funding websites is a relatively new idea for classrooms, Cole believes policies about receiving donations in such a manner are just around the corner.

"I think it'll be interesting to look at a suggested policy's legal standpoint and its recommendations on how to use crowd funding well," he said.