Every school year, teachers in the U.S. fundraise nearly as much money for classroom supplies using crowdfunding websites as the federal government provides them through a tax deduction meant to reimburse them for their own school-related out-of-pocket expenses.
There are no official estimates of how much money teachers raise in total through online crowdfunding sites, but an aggregation of the amounts raised in 2017 through three of the most popular vehicles – DonorsChoose.org, GoFundMe and PledgeCents – shows educators closing in on $200 million in donations.
The money raised covers everything from paper, pencils and pens to iPads and other learning tablets, as well as furniture, field trips and even the cost of tuition for teacher-certification programs.
That figure is just shy of the $210 million it costs the federal government to give teachers the $250 tax deduction, as estimated by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a think tank in Washington.
The amount raised by teachers through those sites has increased steadily since the concept was first introduced in the early 2000s and has been especially on the rise over the last two years as more attention is being paid to the financial pressures involved in being a teacher.
"What I was really focused on during my first year was basic school supplies – pens, pencil, ink, which I'm not provided with and incurs a heavy cost over time," says Gage Salicki, a social studies teacher at Buckley High School in Hartford, Connecticut, who has used crowdfunding sites to curb out-of-pocket expenses. "Hartford gives us some minimal funding to purchase some supplies through an online platform that they have, but the onus is definitely placed on us."
More than 94 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. reported paying for supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-15 school year, according to the Department of Education, which published earlier this year findings from a nationally representative survey of tens of thousands of teachers.
On average, teachers reported spending $479, according to the survey, but 7 percent reported spending more than $1,000.
Salicki is one of those teachers. During his first year in the classroom, he spent about $1,000 in startup costs, he says. Now, in his third year of teaching, he spends about $500 at the beginning of the year to set up his classroom and another $500 to $700 throughout the year as needed.
Salicki has found creative ways to fundraise for his classroom's various needs – everything from pens and pencils to, most recently, a special learning program students can use on their school-issued Chromebooks that's especially helpful for his students for whom English is a second language.