School supplies sit in a shopping cart in Target on West 95th Street and South Pulaski Road in Oak Lawn on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015.
Fond of summer book clubs when he was a child, teacher Blake Macdonald wanted his seventh graders at Kanoon Magnet School in Little Village to develop a love for reading outside of school.
"Not every 13-year-old in the city of Chicago loves to read. I hope I can change that perspective a little bit," he said.
Macdonald raised $515 in March using GoFundMe to buy new, critically acclaimed young adult novels with various titles including "The Kite Runner," "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" and "All American Boys" for each of his 60 students. They can use the books in fourth quarter book clubs, take them home to read or finish them over summer vacation and keep them.
"They’re thrilled and love the books, and (they’re) reading them when I’m not asking them to, which is a beautiful thing," said Macdonald, who shelled out some of his own money for the books as well.
Illinois educators and school supporters have launched 2,450 GoFundMe campaigns for K-12 classrooms since GoFundMe began in 2010, and have netted $1.2 million from more than 23,000 donations, according to a new guidebook the company released Monday to help educators reduce their out-of-pocket expenses. Donations have gone toward iPad keyboards, sports equipment, class field trips, welcome bags with refillable water bottles, crayons and stickers.
Illinois’ fundraising total puts the state in seventh place behind California, Texas, Florida, New York, North Carolina and Georgia. In the last few years, campaigns for K-12 expenses have increased, a GoFundMe spokesman said. GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than $31 million across the country.
Teachers also rely on DonorsChoose.org, another website that accepts donations for school purchases. So far this school year, more than $131,000 was raised for Chicago Public Schools classrooms for things like calculators, microscopes and headphones, a figure that has nearly doubled in the past five years, according to DonorsChoose data.
It’s common practice for teachers to reach into their own wallets to purchase classroom items. A 2015 report from the NPD Group based on a survey of nearly 1,000 teachers in the U.S. found 91 percent used personal funds for school supplies such as notebooks, arts and crafts materials, and cleaning products. They cover what students can’t afford, spending about $500 over the school year, the report said.
CPS teachers said they get reimbursed up to $250 for classroom expenses, but many spend beyond that amount. Some local online fundraising campaigns mentioned the financial crisis facing CPS, which has already led to cutbacks at schools, unpaid furlough days and potentially an early end to the school year.
A teacher at Oscar DePriest Elementary School in South Austin raised $760 this school year to buy supplies such as crayons and puzzles for her kindergarten class. "As I’m sure you’re aware, CPS has drastically cut our school budgets, which directly affect the students. Items that the schools used to be able to provide are no longer covered in the budget," teacher Shanta Holt wrote in the campaign’s description.
An art teacher at Libby Elementary and Middle School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood secured nearly $2,400 for art supplies including crayons, markers, pencils, paints and books. "With the CPS budgets getting incredibly tight over the last few years, the ability to purchase adequate materials for the number of students coming through the art room is unrealistic," wrote Chris Hill on the GoFundMe page.
Teachers aren’t the only ones setting up online fundraisers for classes.
When empty nester Dennis Hauser and his wife moved from Glen Ellyn to Old Town two years ago, the business consultant for the telecom industry decided he wanted to get involved at the local school. He said he was inspired by the Manierre Elementary School’s success in avoiding closure, getting off probation and boosting its test scores.
"I realized I can’t donate tens of thousands of dollars, but what I can do is donate something I have, which is time, and leverage that time to generate more funding for the school," said Hauser, 61.
A campaign Hauser launched last July to complement other fundraising efforts for the 2016-17 school year reached its $25,000 goal, with most of the money used to help pay for 25 low-income eighth graders and school staff to accompany them on a weeklong visit to historical landmarks, major attractions and colleges in California, Florida and Louisiana that aimed to inspire and motivate them to stay in high school and go to college.
Taking a college trip as a junior or senior in high school is too late for some students, who might drop out before then, said Principal Derrick Orr.
Orr sees the donations as an investment in the city’s youth. "Chicago is full of violence and a lot of negative things going on," he said. "We’re trying to do something positive."