21st Century Bake Sale

I used to have a set of notecards with a picture of a playground and the message: “It will be a great day when schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Several news stories and a recent conversation made me think about that note card. The conversation was with the county administrator where I live. He was discussing how you can tell what a community values by looking at its annual budget. He gave an example of a town that said it valued small farmers and yet had an equipment tax that was very hard on those very small farmers. They made policy changes, backed them up with a new budget and suddenly the SHOWED that they valued small farmers by helping them thrive in their community. The news stories dealt with students and teachers using social media to fundraise for field trips and school supplies. In particular, this Slashdot posting about Google’s flash-funding of teachers’ projects via DonorsChoose got my attention. I will admit up front that I have a love/hate relationship with fundraising. When I was teaching, my students sold gift wrap, cookie mix, magazine subscriptions and more. I understood the importance of those extra dollars to the school but worried about all the negatives such as the students whose families couldn’t afford to buy the overpriced items, the focus on getting rewarded, and just all the extra distraction from an already too full day. My husband refused to buy the gee gaws from the neighbor kids, preferring to turn over a cash donation since the total amount went to the schools. I sat through a fundraiser pep rally in which the presenter repeatedly commented that it was probably much more exciting to be in this assembly than in class. Maybe the cash blowing machine had something to do with that? While kids fundraising isn’t new, teacher fundraising is. Sites like Reddit Gifts and DonorsChoose allow teachers to request funds or materials, often for basic school supplies. The teachers use these sites to help offset their own personal spending for their classrooms. What do you get for your money? The good feeling that comes when you support a worthy cause. And you demonstrate your own priorities with your dollars, something our local, state and federal entities are not doing in appreciative ways. This is all very nice but, like using lottery winnings to support education, it lets government off the hook and leaves the rest of us picking up the slack in an area that most everyone, right or left, agrees is essential to the future our our country.

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