Some schoolteachers in Philadelphia are looking to the Internet to raise funds for basic school supplies amid ongoing budget shortfalls.
Philadelphia is one of the nation's largest school districts, serving more than 190,000 traditional and charter school students, and it's been working for several months to close a budget deficit of nearly $304 million. Until the district recently received $50 million in emergency aid, officials feared they wouldn't be able to open in time for fall classes.
Allison Wudarski, a kindergarten teacher at the Julia deBurgos School in the Kensington section of the city, said her budget for school supplies each year is around $100 -- and she doesn't expect that to increase any time soon. Necessary supplies, she said, often come out of her own pocket.
“You want to give them everything, but it's a little hard financially to do that,” Wudarski said.
To offset some of those costs, Wudarski has been raising money for supplies online and has gotten funding from people she doesn't even know. Websites like DonorsChoose.org and Indiegogo allow teachers to crowd fund everything from scissors to musical instruments.
“I've gotten a ton of books and things like writing notebooks, crayons and paper, pencils,” she said.
On the website DonorsChoose.org, teachers list the specific supplies they need on a campaign page where anyone can donate any amount. Once a campaign is funded, the organization sends the items to the teachers.
Over the past three years, Wudarski has launched seven campaigns with goals ranging from $200 to more than $500 -- and they've all been successfully funded. With just over a week to go before classes begin, she has two active campaigns going.
Melanie Duppins of DonorsChoose.org said there is typically a surge in the number of campaigns launched this time of year as teachers prepare for the fall. And although that means there are a lot more campaigns for donors to choose from, she said, this is the time of year when corporate sponsorship spikes as well.
“Usually the biggest questions teachers have are ‘Will I get funded? Is this for real?’” Duppins said. “And they have a really great chance of being successful. More than seven out of 10 teachers who use DonorsChoose.org in a year are going to be funded.”
Another option teachers have is the Indiegogo website. Indiegogo spokeswoman Rose Levy said the number of education-related campaigns on the website have doubled since last year. But unlike DonorsChoice.org, the number of campaigns doesn't significantly surge at any particular time of the year. Levy said.
Wudarski said she's interested in any service that can help her get the materials her students need. When a brown box arrives in her class, she said, her students know it's filled with supplies she's managed to get for them.
“I have kindergarteners, the little guys,” she said. “They're still excited about school and treasure every gift that they get.”