THE BLOG

Can Online Fundraisers Save Struggling Schools?

04/02/2015 04:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

A couple of recent stories highlight schools turning to online fundraising to provide students with everything from basic classroom supplies to long-distance field trips.

Nicole Dobo, who covers blended learning for The Hechinger Report, looked at how more easily accessible (and transparent) online sites such as DonorsChoose.org are giving teachers a way to make direct appeals for help:

These days, 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.

It's understandable that donors would want accountability for how their dollars are actually spent. And DonorsChoose.org provides that, as NPR reported. More than $310 million has been raised for schools over the past 15 years. Admittedly, as NPR points out, that's "a drop in the bucket" compared with the billions of dollars in local, state and federal funding. But it's certainly dollars that many of those schools otherwise wouldn't have at their disposal.

Many of these online requests are relatively modest. A quick glance at the site brought me to a teacher in Muskegon Heights, Mich. "Mrs. D." at Martin Luther King Elementary is seeking $239 to buy headphones for her students to use a classroom computer activity center. As of today she was halfway to her goal.

To be sure, the Internet can be a powerful springboard for schools. Consider the case of the Brooklyn student interviewed by Humans of New York, who talked about a schoolwide effort to raise enough money to visit Washington, D.C. Not only did the campaign rake in over $1 million in donations, but both the student and his principal wound up in the Oval Office.

That being said, feel-good stories like these shouldn't distract from the fact that plenty of schools across the country struggle to provide students with basic educational support, never mind enrichment field trips or support services like eye exams or extra meals. Not all of those requests will get filled online. In fact, several states are facing lawsuits challenging the equity of their school funding formulas. (New York and Texas are just two recent examples.) When it comes to money, many schools and districts are facing problems that will take more than even the most successful fundraising campaigns to solve.