Earlier this school year, a resident called one of our school board members about a request for a piece of technology made by a teacher via a crowd funding site. "Why," asked the community member, "after recently passing a sizable technology funding referendum are teachers still begging for money for technology?"
Despite our referendum being quite sizable and having a clear, transparent, and public plan for its use, some technology wants still go unmet. I cannot imagine the amount of money that would satisfy the requests for educational resources of every staff member in our district.
Yet is asking for donations a good way to fund classroom technology? Gary Stager, per usual, doesn't hold back in his blog post NO! I Will Not Buy Your Damn School Supplies! August 21, 2016. He writes:
I will not help teachers commit suicide by supporting these feel good attempts to turn basic public school funding into an act of charity. Each time educators normalize deprivation and substitute charity as social justice withheld, they will find themselves with fewer classroom resources. Such actions also spurn greater public school privatization and devaluing of teachers.
Q: You know who should pay for school supplies?
A: Tax payers!
While Gary has a strong moral position on school funding by donation, there are some pragmatic downsides as well. I have long argued that any resource that relies on fundraising or donations will always be viewed as an extra, not as a critical need in an educational system. (The warning was primarily given to school librarians who relied on book fairs and PTOs for book budgets.) Society must fund schools in an equitable and adequate manner to create a strong workforce and educated electorate. Donations can cause inequity within a district (or building), especially in districts where some schools are located in wealthier neighborhoods than others.
Yet I also have to applaud the efforts of dedicated parent organizations who have raised tons of money for technology (when the district could not or would not fund it), playgrounds, school signage, etc. We take great pride in providing backpacks full of school supplies each fall for students in need via community donations and in packing food for children in poverty to eat over the weekend all year long. (The last helping develop empathy and compassion among our high school students who participate in the volunteer activity.) Whether it be schools, parks, museums, or sports facilities, there are few institutions that do not accept - or indeed don't solicit - donations. Even our tax code encourages such giving by making charitable donations tax deductible.
This is a question of course that calls for balance and a bit of wisdom. It is not a matter of accepting donations, but have smart rule about who and how the funds can be requested and especially about how they can be used. And it calls for district-wide guidelines. Jennifer Fink in Crowdfunding the Classroom. (District Administration, September 2016) writes:
The ease with which anyone can create a crowdfunding request—for just about anything—is exactly why districts need policies. Otherwise, administrators may need to turn down a crowdfunded kiln because the school doesn’t have an appropriate ventilation system—or send back computers that aren’t compatible with the district’s equipment.
Furthermore, without polices in place, administrators have no control over inappropriate requests, and no established procedures for guaranteeing donor expectations are met.
Policies ensure accountability, transparency and coordination.
Were I setting school policy, I might first work to determine what should be considered foundational, basic resources that should be available to every student and then require that donations only are used to acquire materials that are truly supplemental or even experimental.
Of course making those determinations will be tricky. That iPad or Smartboard in the kindergarten room - basic or supplemental?
Faithful Blue Skunk readers may have noticed a gap in my postings. Between school start up and a vacation, I've neglected my shared ruminations. I hope to be back on track starting now!