ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Teachers around Texas and across the U.S. are posting links to Amazon wish lists on social media in an effort to rally donors to help outfit their classrooms for the upcoming school year.
The social media campaign, powered by the hashtag #ClearTheLists, is gaining steam with the backing of celebrities on Twitter, including the Casey Donahew Band, which set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations and apply them to classroom shopping lists. The band raised more than $50,000 in donations by Thursday morning.
Many teachers are taking up the call themselves, paying it forward by buying things for other teachers.
“I’ve been blessed so far in the amount of teachers that have paid it forward to me,” said Lauren Jones, a third-grade teacher in Round Rock ISD.
Her list is still long, filled with books, flexible seating options and other classroom supplies. Last year, her first year teaching, she spent $2,000 out of pocket to equip her class.
“I did what I needed to do to provide for my kids,” Jones said.
A teacher in east Texas, Courtney Jones (no relation to Lauren), started the movement in early July with a single Facebook page called Support a Teacher, where she encouraged educators to post their wish lists. There are now individual pages for regions and states, and the #ClearTheLists hashtag has taken off on Twitter.
“I couldn’t even quantify how much money has been spent,” Courtney Jones told KXAN, “but I know that over tens of thousands of teachers have received at least one gift off of their list.”
But outside of the feel-good stories of parents and other community members helping teachers, the movement has a message: This should not be part of an educator’s job.
“I admire teachers for doing that; I admire the people who are contributing,” said Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association. “However, this is a government function. They shouldn’t have to be doing this.”
The TSTA represents about 60,000 teachers; in the group’s latest member survey, conducted in 2018, teachers reported spending an average of $738 of their own money on classroom supplies. That’s up nearly $100 from the same survey conducted in 2016.
If each of the state’s 350,000 teachers spent that average amount, Robison said, “that’s about a $250 million subsidy to state officials on the public education budget.”
Texas lawmakers did well this past legislative session, he went on, to start addressing school funding, but they need to go further when they reconvene in Austin in 2021.
Jones, the movement’s founder, has the same message for teachers across the country. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said. “Reach out to your legislators, your state representatives, and we can really make really big changes if we band together like we have been.”
But unless and until that happens, teachers like Eileen Torres will keep reaching out to celebrities on social media.
“I am a huge WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) fan, so I’ve been tagging WWE and all the superstars,” Torres, another third-grade teacher in Round Rock, said.
She just started her wish list a week ago, but has already seen some of her requests fulfilled.
“Each kid is going to have their own scissors,” she said. “Each kid will have access to clipboards.”
For Lauren Jones, who’s already spent $400 on her own classroom this summer plus more to gift items to other teachers, she’s proud that her profession continues to step up to provide more resources for students. But she hopes the future holds a solution that doesn’t involve digging into her paycheck to pay classroom bills.
“People just assume that we’re given these things,” she said, “and we’re not.”
It’s up to local districts to determine whether teachers can crowdfund supplies.
Leander ISD, for example, prohibits teachers from gathering donations on any website besides DonorsChoose, the district’s “approved partner for crowdfunding because it limits donations to supplies, avoiding the transfer of cash,” according to a statement from a spokesperson.
The district is working with Wiley Middle School, the spokesperson says, to pilot the use of Amazon wish lists through Leander ISD’s business account and will consider policy changes to “allow additional tools.”
Austin ISD, meanwhile, doesn’t have a policy for or against using wish lists and hashtags, and Hays CISD explicitly allows all web-based crowdfunding, with the caveat that employees need supervisor approval if they use the name of the district, a campus or specific students in their solicitations.