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Tapping the Internet for school dollars

Website allows teachers to articulate needs and solicit money for classroom projects.

February 20, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Tim Berger/Staff…)

For years, Chris and Jennifer Davis have given their students the task of interviewing senior family members as part of an oral history project for the couple’s humanities class at Clark Magnet High School.

But the cheap recorders used to collect the audio data were increasingly insufficient. So earlier this month, Chris Davis turned to the nonprofit website donorschoose.org, where he posted a request for eight, high-quality digital recorders and a description of how they would be used.

By Friday, eight people had logged on and donated the $800 needed to buy the recorders.

“We buy basic supplies for our classroom all the time, but this is something that is pretty costly and I am not going to go out and spend $800 on something,” Chris Davis said. “If many people can contribute, that just makes my job a lot easier.”

Increasing numbers of public school teachers are turning to the website to finance classroom supplies and special projects, said Cesar Bocanegra, chief operating officer for DonorsChoose. Since it was founded in 2000 by a New York high school teacher in the Bronx, the organization has facilitated $108 million in funding for public education, and is expected to do another $40 million in business this year alone, he said.

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There are other organizations with similar missions, but none operate on the scale of DonorsChoose, which went national in 2007 and is accessible to every public school in the United States, Bocanegra said.

The organization has a series of safeguards in place to ensure donations are used for their stated purpose. Every one of the 10,000 monthly submissions are carefully vetted, and principals are contacted to substantiate the need. Participating teachers never actually see the money — instead, the requested items are purchased by DonorsChoose and mailed directly to the school address.

Teachers are required to follow up by posting photos of the donated item in use on the website, and by sending thank-you notes to everyone who contributed at least $50, Bocanegra said.

A $35 fee is attached to each project listing, and donors can also choose to contribute to the nonprofit beyond their specified donation, money needed to cover operating expenses, Bocanegra said.

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