February 15, 2012: The Wasserman Foundation, a family educational charity established in 1952 by Lew Wasserman, a movie studio mogul, and his wife Edie, in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District, has donated $4 million to fund classroom projects in the district through donorschoose.org, an online charity where public school teachers can submit requests for supplies for classroom projects, and donors can choose which to support.
Wasserman's $4 million donation funded a total of 8,197 LAUSD classroom projects in less than 3 months.
$2 million was allocated to "gift cards", where recipients can choose the project they want to fund. The schools distributed $15 gift cards to all 700,000 LAUSD parents last December and Starbucks distributed an additional 285,000 gift cards, worth $10 each, to the general public through 200 of their Los Angeles stores, beginning January 23. In total, 107,000 parents and 39,842 starbucks recipients activated giftcards on donorschoose.org to fund classroom projects, meaning 143,000 people participated in spending the funds. The gift cards were redeemable through Feb 16, 2012, but the campaign proved so popular that all the funds have already been spent (donorschoose.org gives out more giftcards than funds on the basis that only about 25% will be activated).
$2 million was allocated to match donations for LAUSD classroom projects submitted by teachers on donorschoose.org (called double your impact). Initially the double your impact campaign was supposed to run for 2 years to help fund projects in the district, but as of February 1, 2012, the Wasserman Foundation announced these funds have also been exhausted.
Teachers were encouraged to submit 2 projects totalling $800. Examples of projects are: puppets to help kids learn to read, a new rug for kids to sit on, a classroom computer, a digital camcorder to tell stories. Teachers write short descriptions that must be approved by donorschoose.org, which sources the supplies and (once the project meets its funding goal) mails them out directly to the classroom. As part of the commitment, teachers must prepare a Thank-you Package, containing a teacher impact letter, handwritten student thank-you letters, and photos of the project, to send to donorschoose.org; the photos and teacher impact letter are uploaded to the website, and the student letters are forwarded to the donors.
Watch LAUSD teachers talk about the projects funded through this initiative:
The Wasserman initiative is large, but several corporations and foundations (Omidyar Network, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chevron) have already donated millions of dollars to the public schools directly to the classroom in this way.
Foundations and corporate donors typically choose to match donations made by individuals to specific classroom projects, either within a particular district, such as the Antioch Union Schools Foundation, which spends its mini-grants through donorschoose.org; The San Francisco Unified School District has partnered with Gap,Inc. to do the same. Local businesses can also choose to support specific types of classroom projects (technology, environmental, science) by distributing gift cards or matching donations made by their employees. Corporate funds are also paying for classroom supplies using donorschoose.org through marketing campaigns (see examples: US Cellular, Chevron) by donating small amounts every time someone uses their service.
Written for California's Children by Elizabeth J Carlyle