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States use ESSER funding to fulfill teachers’ requests for materials

States use ESSER funding to fulfill teachers’ requests for materials

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Second grade teacher Samantha Ramos’ morning work for her students covers essential lessons, but the English language development teacher at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, knew something was missing.

Supplies like marble runs and interlocking plastic building discs would help students think creatively and learn how to problem-solve and work in teams. Materials for small group instruction in phonics, such as dice games and flip books, could provide hands-on learning fun, especially as she attempts to strengthen foundational reading skills following COVID-19 school closures and disruptions.

After calculating the cost of all these materials at $838.85, Ramos submitted a proposal in March through DonorsChoose, a popular online fundraising platform for individual educators’ classroom materials and projects. 

Two days later, her request was fully funded by one donor — the Arizona Department of Education. A few weeks later, the materials arrived at her school.

My hope is that all teachers are aware of this amazing tool that is literally at the tip of their fingers,” Ramos said in an email. “As a teacher with students who are growing in both size and knowledge,” she is in constant need of different materials, Ramos said.

Arizona’s direct donations to teachers like Ramos are being replicated in a handful of other states that are also partnering with DonorsChoose to send federal pandemic relief funding and state money to directly support individual teachers’ requests for materials.

According to DonorsChoose, state education agencies in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Oklahoma and Utah have together contributed more than $42 million since the beginning of the pandemic to fund teacher-submitted projects in their states. 

“Educators are the experts on the needs of their individual classrooms — they are best positioned to make decisions about what investments would support their students in recovering from the impact of interrupted learning, and all-too-often they are not consulted in decisions about how to direct funds,” said Jhone Ebert, Nevada state superintendent of public instruction, in an email.

State set-asides launched

Since its launch in 2000, the nonprofit DonorsChoose has helped raise $1.3 billion for 727,550 teachers and their students, according to the organization’s website. 

Teachers seeking funding write an essay describing the learning outcomes for their materials and itemize the price of each desired item. Once those requests are vetted by DonorsChoose, they go live on the charity’s website where the public can contribute to the projects. 

Half of the funds raised come from individuals giving an average of $50. The other half has historically come from foundations and companies, said Ali Rosen, DonorsChoose vice president for business development. The average cost of a teacher’s project is $550, and about 80% of teachers’ projects are funded, Rosen said. 

A majority of successfully funded projects hit their fundraising goal in about a month. If the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose purchases the materials and sends them to the teacher’s school. 

The partnerships between DonorsChoose and state education agencies — the first of their kind — emerged during the pandemic as states received federal COVID-19 emergency money known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund. A total of $189 billion has been distributed to schools through ESSER for spending through September 2024, or longer if extensions are granted.

States and districts have flexibility to use the money as they wish, but spending must be in response to the pandemic’s impact on schools.

For the partnerships between DonorsChoose and state education agencies, states are subgranting a set amount of funds to DonorsChoose and then allocating a dollar amount per teacher project. 

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