School officials in Metro Nashville have temporarily barred teachers from using online crowdfunding sites where they can ask donors to fund classroom projects.
Now, some teachers are worried they’ll have to spend more of their own money on classroom necessities.
That's the case for Kristine Harrison. In her bright classroom at Gower Elementary in Bellevue, kindergartners start every morning by bouncing around a fuzzy, multi-colored rug. That's when Harrison will tell them to get our their boxes, which have puzzles, colors, and blocks. Some even have iPads.
"They’re all with a partner, and they are working on sharing and fine-motor working with one another to build things," said Harrison.
"A lot of it is hands-on, and they don’t even know they’re learning."
Harrison says she’s spent thousands of dollars out of her own pocket on supplies during her nearly two decades here.
Because the district gives teachers only $200 in spending money annually, Harrison started using an online crowdfunding site called Donors Choose, where parents or supporters could a fund a classroom item. Harrison says she’s gotten about $5,000 worth of material through it, including that fuzzy rug the kids love.
"Donors Choose just made it so that people knew exactly [what] they were getting and how many students you had and how this would impact their lives and how this would impact your teaching," said Harrison.
But in December, Harrison got an email from Metro Nashville Public Schools, saying she could not use Donors Choose. Taronda Frierson, director of school audit for Metro, says online crowdfunding is against district policy.
"Employees could just be out there fundraising just on their own. There’s no way to know they’re not using it for private use."
Frierson says it’s a liability if Metro doesn’t know what’s coming into the classroom. Technology, for example, has to meet district IT rules. This has been a longstanding policy, she says. But not everyone has been following it — with some teachers turning to fundraising sites like Donors Choose and GoFundMe.
Metro worries employees will use such sites to fill their own wallets, Frierson says.
So now, the Nashville school board is updating the district’s fundraising policy. Board member Gini Pupo-Walker says it’s still in the beginning stages.
"Where we are right now is to do some fact-finding around what practices support whole-school — and in some cases individual teacher fundraising — and then get that into policy," she said.
Pupo-Walker says it's difficult to find a catch-all solution because not all crowdfunding sites are the same.
In the meantime, Nashville school teacher Harrison says she’s trying to figure out how to pay for her classroom materials.
"Please bring it back. That’s all I have to say," Harrison says. "I would love for them to figure it out because I hate that a few bad apples may have ruined it for everyone else."
Harrison says she’ll probably use her own money to finance some of her upcoming projects.