In a hotly contested race for the hearts and spare change of thrifty teachers, three stores were within one vote of each other. The holy retail trinity of Staples, Target, and Wal-Mart -- in that order -- garnered the most votes. Online alternatives include Classroom Direct and the Oriental Trading Company. Creativity, too, abounds: One respondent buys sheets of smooth shower board at the local home-supply store, cuts them into squares, and gives them to students to use as personal dry-erase boards. And many folks reminded us to buy in July and August, when good deals are most plentiful.
All teachers have good reason to wonder: "Why should educators need a place to buy school supplies? Shouldn't they be supplied? By the school?" The answer, of course, is yes. The reality, however, is that schools are grappling for the funds to keep their doors open and are relying -- more than ever -- on teachers to pay for even the most basic tools. (See "Beyond Bake Sales," Dec/Jan 2006.)
Though some argue that donations to help pay for classroom materials simply let state and federal funders off the hook, many teachers have gratefully turned to DonorsChoose for help. Once available only to teachers in New York City's public schools, this online broker of charitable donations now serves schools across the country. Teachers submit project proposals to the not-for-profit Web site, and individuals select the ones they would like to fund. The organization promises that donors who give more than one-hundred dollars will receive a feedback package of students' photos and thank-you notes, a teacher-impact letter, and an expenditure report showing that their tax-deductible gift was spent as directed. Not to mention loads of good karma.