Budget & Finance From Our Research Center

How Do Teachers Fund Their Classrooms? 6 Takeaways

By Sarah Schwartz — April 11, 2019 4 min read
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Most teachers say they expect to contribute resources to their classrooms—bringing in everything from extra books for a classroom library to basic hygiene supplies like tissues and hand sanitizer.

But teachers aren’t only putting up the cash themselves. In addition to old standbys like grants and bake sales, many are turning to other fundraising opportunities, including online crowdfunding platforms like DonorsChoose.

The Education Week Research Center recently surveyed a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of about 500 teachers on where they get the money they need for these materials. The takeaways include:

1. The rise of online crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose has given teachers more options for raising money. Still, teachers are most likely to spend their own when they need something for their classroom.

Nearly all teachers—95 percent—said they had put out some cash themselves this past year when they needed resources other than what their district provided. Teachers said they spent a median amount of $338 of their own money over the past school year. (Estimates of how much teachers spend out of pocket vary. In the National Teacher and Principal Survey, teachers reported spending an average of $479 a year on their classrooms.) Only about 12 percent said they had crowdfunded online in the past year.

Teachers’ responses also suggested that they aren’t able to fill all the funding gaps they see. Almost half said that when they need something the district doesn’t provide, they just do without.

2. Crowdfunding sites aren’t necessarily a game-changing source of funding for teachers. Educators reported receiving more money, on average, from grants and live fundraising events than they did from DonorsChoose.

Only about a quarter of teachers reported raising money for their classrooms through crowdfunding in the past year. Among them, the median amount raised was $750. But crowdfunding is still slightly less profitable than grants or live fundraising events: Teachers who used those methods typically raised $800 and $850 in the past year, respectively. And online fundraising isn’t always reliable: Nearly 1 in 3 teachers who had tried to use crowdfunding said they had never gotten a project fully funded.

3. Teachers in lower-income areas report the greatest need for additional resources. But they have a harder time fundraising than people in high-income areas.

At schools where more than 75 percent of students are from low-income families, teachers reported needing an average of $980 over the past year for materials not provided by the school or district—more than twice as much as teachers in schools where less than a quarter of students come from low-income families. And yet teachers in higher-income schools are able to raise the most money to outfit their classrooms.

These gaps are far greater in some areas than others. For example, teachers who work with students from mostly high-income families get seven times as much money from their school, district, and/or state for classroom materials and net almost five times as much from live fundraising events like bingo nights or bake sales than those teachers working with students from mostly low-income families.

Teachers in areas with mostly low-income families also spend more of their own money on classroom resources. In schools where more than 75 percent of students are from low-income families, teachers spent $767 out of pocket on average in the past year, compared with the $525 that teachers spent in schools where less than 25 percent of students are from low-income families.

4. When teachers do turn to crowdfunding sites, DonorsChoose is the favorite.

A quarter of teachers have used DonorsChoose at some point in their careers. The website is the clear leader among teachers who fundraise online: The next most popular platforms are Adopt-A-Classroom and GoFundMe, which each have been used by 3 percent of respondents. Still, most teachers have never used a crowdfunding site—71 percent say they’ve never listed a project.

What are teachers asking for on these sites? Books top the list, followed by classroom furniture, technology, and manipulatives.

5. Some schools and districts have banned crowdfunding—but that’s rare. It’s more common for schools and districts to impose regulations on how teachers use the sites.

About a quarter of teachers say there are either formal or informal procedures that govern their use of crowdfunding. Most often, they require teachers to get approval from a school administrator.

Only about 8 percent of teachers report that crowdfunding on DonorsChoose or similar sites is banned in their school or district. It’s possible that the actual number is higher, though, as 38 percent said they don’t know whether crowdfunding is permitted.

A little more than 30 percent of teachers said they could use the site without any restrictions, and 1 in 5 said that administrators encourage them to create projects.

6. For the most part, teachers think that school and district leaders are right to keep tabs on the crowdfunding going on in classrooms.

82 percent of teachers said the rules at their school or district around using DonorsChoose and similar sites are appropriate. And 56 percent of respondents said that crowdfunding should be allowed but regulated by districts.

Teachers aren’t always sure if their colleagues are always making purchases that meet district needs. While 72 percent agree that the instructional materials teachers buy are aligned to standards, only 46 percent say that teachers read the fine print on tech purchases to make sure that student data are protected.


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