A report from the US DOE estimates that 94% of teachers spend their own money stocking their classrooms. Even that number seems like an underestimate. I have yet to meet a single teacher that hadn’t either used her own money for classroom supplies, spent large portions of time working after hours for free, or both.
Too often, teachers use their own money to fill the basic needs of their classrooms. And when their pockets, inevitably, aren’t deep enough, they turn to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding (or crowdsourcing) refers to any number of online fundraising systems such as Donors Choose and Go Fund Me, which allow people to create a “cause” they are fundraising for and solicit donations from their friends or from concerned community members. This is all well and good; it’s a way to allow the community to feel some connection to the school, even if they don’t have school-age children, and teachers get to stock their classrooms, but at what point does it enable the status quo? State and local governments are continually asking more of teachers while giving them less to work with. But year after year teachers somehow scrape up the money and materials they need to “make do” and perform the miracle that is educating children.
For public education, there are huge gaps between what is budgeted by various levels of government, and what money actually shows up in schools. Federal programs are undercut by finance committees, which leaves the states with a deficit they can’t fill, which in turn leaves districts with a funding shortage, which leaves schools with huge gaps between what they ought to have, based on enrollment and need, and what they end up with. Those gaps are being filled piecemeal by literal pieces of cardboard we sometimes remember to cut off a cereal box. Why are corporations subsidizing a universal government program?
We’ve all seen the viral posts about random acts of kindness, where a kind soul surprises a teacher by buying her a car, or paying for her grocery cart full of classroom supplies. These are wonderful, heartwarming stories of charity and human kindness. However, as Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog said so eloquently,
“Acts of charity belong in response to an unavoidable natural catastrophe, not the entirely predictable results of human-created policy.”
Can you imagine any other sector where a service is never fully funded, and leaves their employees or the consumer to make up the difference? A hospital where the nurses sometimes run out of clean syringes and use their wages to buy more. A restaurant where the servers purchase their own flatware to lend out to each table. A grocery store that has run out of fruit, so it asks its produce clerk to run to Walmart to grab a crate of oranges (he won’t be reimbursed). One might assume that these things occur in remote places, in developing countries, or in strange parallel universes, but not in America. Never in our beautiful, strong, city-on-a-hill America.
We cannot continue accepting this status quo of constant deficit and hoping someone else will make up the difference. All the Target coupons in the world will not make up for the fact that our government and society are failing our teachers and our children. We cannot keep putting bandaids and fancy ribbons on gaping holes and being satisfied that we’ve done our good deed for the day.
Please don’t read this and think that I am ungrateful for all the help that I and other educators have received throughout the years by grants, individual kindness, and nationwide fundraisers or discounts. I am. I am so grateful. You have made a difference by helping. But helping the one draws attention away from the thousands of her peers that went without. All of these projects and programs are just enablers for our government who refuses to accept financial responsibility for its future.
Americans should not have to rely on the kindness and discretion of strangers to teach our children.