At first, the news sounded kind of perplexing and ominous. Late last night, I was apprised of a memo that went out to Dallas Independent School District principals. The memo, folks said, banned the use of certain crowdfunding sites to raise funds for anything involving the district.
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Donors Choose have become havens for teachers and schools who need to raise money for school trips, class projects, new books, etc. Needless to say, as word filtered out teachers were concerned.
The memo opened (you can read the memo here: Online Donation Websites) by acknowledging, “While these type of websites can be good fundraisers for individuals, it is important to remember that the Dallas ISD is a governmental entity, not an individual or private sector entity. There are different laws that govern our district in regards to this issue.” The district then explains that it doesn’t approve of these online fundraisers for several reasons, including that the terms and conditions may violate state law or local policies, the platforms often collect fees that only the district’s finance department can determine are appropriate to pay, and that some sites require information that isn’t allowed to be provided.
The memo, to be honest, sounds like a complete ban on all crowdfunding. So I began emailing back and forth with Dallas ISD news and information director André Riley. “Our staff may still use DonorsChoose,” Riley said. “We’ll plan to clarify that with them soon.”
But the other takeaway from the memo is this: The district plans to launch its own pilot program for crowdfunding in two months. “The Financial Services Department is aware of the desire to have an online donation option. As a result, the Financial Services Department has indicated that a pilot program for online donations that is maintained and controlled by the District will begin in approximately two months with select schools. Interested schools should prepare to use the District’s program when available districtwide,” the memo said.
While details are scant right now (I’ve been promised more information soon), I do know that last year the San Francisco Unified School District also decided to create its own crowdfunding platform – Spark*Learning, becoming the first district to do so during the last school year. San Francisco partnered with online fundraising platform Tilt to create its own site. The district said in a press release last year that with schools raising funds through its own platform, “principals will not have to navigate purchasing technology on their own. Through this system, SFUSD can centralize purchasing, which will lead to greater savings and maintain a standard for district loss and theft prevention.” The site, however, focuses mainly on technology needs.
Crowdfunding has become a widely popular way for teachers to raise funds for projects, trips and other needs that just aren’t covered by district funds. Nichole Dobo of the Hechinger Report explained in a recent story, “Not that long ago, fundraising for school trips required paper checks, envelopes stuffed with cash and an army of parent volunteers.”
“These days,” she continued, “a website can reach a wider audience more efficiently. These online tools for fund-raising have streamlined the process for soliciting private donations to pay for materials and activities that are not supported by many public school budgets.”
According to Donors Choose (which is just one of several sites favored by educators, but is now the only one approved by Dallas ISD), since its inception in 2000, 639,000 projects have been funded, and almost $368 million has been raised for 257,170 teachers nationwide. There are 270 open campaigns in Dallas right now, the majority for Dallas public schools.
Last year, the United Federation of Teachers’ 2013-2014 annual teacher’s survey found that educators reported spending an average of $500 of their own money each year on classroom supplies over and above what their district reimbursed them. The Hechinger Report cited a 2013 study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association revealed that teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money on clasroom supplies in the 2012-2013 school year.