Economy

Oklahoma Teacher Forced to Panhandle for Money to Get Students School Supplies

July 25th 2017

By:
Mike Rothschild

Last week, a teacher in Oklahoma made national news when she was spotted panhandling for money to buy school supplies.

This isn't the first time Teresa Danks relied on other resources to obtain classroom supplies for her students.

The Tulsa third-grade teacher in the past has used her own money to help in the hands-on teaching of science and art. Teaching in Oklahoma, she already had to deal with repeated budget cuts, overcrowded classrooms and shortages of materials, making up the difference to the tune of as much as $3,000 per year out of her $35,000 salary, according to Time. While the district provides for the basics, the 50-year-old still needed to pay out of pocket for anything beyond just pencils and textbooks.

So when her husband jokingly suggested she "hit the streets like a panhandler," she took it seriously.

"I thought, you know, that might just generate a buzz on Facebook to help me get the supplies I need,” she told the Washington Post. So with a sign reading, "“Teacher Needs School Supplies! Anything Helps. Thank You!" she headed to a highway exit outside a local casino. Before long, she'd made over $100 and attracted the attention of a local news station.

“I definitely am going to be pushing forward this movement,” she told Time. “I would love to see teachers across America standing out there with their signs, saying just that we’re begging for education.”

She also created a GoFundMe page where she's raised over $14,500, so far. After exceeding her initial goal of $2,000 she said she will donate the rest to DonorsChoose.org, an organization that gives to public school teachers struggling to fill classroom needs around the country.

Unfortunately, Danks is far from the only teacher forced to pay for her students' supplies, and Oklahoma is one of many states that made drastic cuts to school spending.

While the state is among the worst in per-pupil spending (only three states spend less) and teacher salaries (they're the second worst in the country, according to Time), few states are making the needed investments in its public elementary schools. Many are cutting spending to the bone, to the point of not even holding classes five days a week.

Statistics from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) painted a grim picture of how much (or little) states are spending on public education.

According to a 2016 report from the non-partisan think tank, "public investment in K-12 schools ... has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade." Making things even worse is that the hardest hit states have also cut state income taxes, reducing the biggest source of public school funding.

The CBPP found the following for the 2017 school year:

  • At least 23 states will provide less general funding than they did before the recession in 2008.
  • Eight states cut general funding per student by at least 10 percent over this period, with five, including Oklahoma, cutting income taxes to ensure funding will stay reduced.
  • There were 19 states that have imposed new cuts, even with the economy improving, again, including Oklahoma.
  • Then, there were 35 states that provided less overall state funding per student in the 2014 school year than in 2008, before the recession.

The consequences of school funding cuts are dire, with long-term research cited by the CBPP showing that schools that see even modest increases in per-pupil spending have higher graduation rates, and their students have higher earnings and are less likely to be poor.

In economically struggling states, like Oklahoma, the small amounts of money raised by teachers can make a tremendous difference.

Check out a local news report on the teacher's brave efforts for her students in the video below or donate to her GoFundMe here.