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Philanthropy: Big Chunk Of DonorsChoose Goes To Schools Below 65 Percent Poverty

DonorsChoose is a well-known and generally well-regarded nonprofit that allows individuals to direct contributions to specific classroom projects.  But does the 15 year-old operation lessen or even exacerbate resource inequalities among different schools within districts or among different areas? How targeted are the projects that get funding?

The question comes up with recent stories from NPR about the endeavor. As you'll notice, different versions of the story had different headlines: Fundraising Site For Teachers Illuminates Classroom Disparities (WAMU).  Teachers fundraising site helps level classroom disparities (NPR).

According to DonorChoose, the highest poverty schools definitely comprise the majority of projects posted and funded on the site. Last year, for example, over 80,000 highest-poverty school projects were posted, compared to just under 4,000 low-poverty school postings, and the success rate for high-poverty school proposals is highest than any other category at 72 percent.  
But the next two categories down - high- and moderate-poverty schools -- together posted roughly 61,000 projects, and their success rate was just slightly lower at 69 percent.
And DonorsChoose's categories are worth noting, as well: highest-poverty is anything over 65 percent, 40-64% is high poverty, moderate poverty is 10-39%, and low poverty as <10%.
So it seems like a substantial chunk of Donors Choose projects and funding are going to schools with poverty rates below 65 percent.

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Alex kindly encouraged us to weigh in, so I thought I’d provide some context.

Five out of six projects on DonorsChoose.org come from a high-need or Title 1 public school. One out of six projects comes from a moderate or low-poverty public school where the free/reduced lunch rate is less than 40%.

We use 65%+ free/reduced lunch as one demarcator of economic need because that’s roughly the rate above which a school qualifies for Title 1 funding from the federal government. These schools are labeled “highest poverty” on DonorsChoose.org.

We use 40%+ free/reduced lunch as our next demarcator because that’s the level above which the federal government classifies a school as “high need.” These schools are labeled “high poverty” (as opposed to “highest poverty”) on DonorsChoose.org. We previously used “high need” on our site to mimic the federal government classification, but citizen donors were rightfully confused by one label referring to "poverty" and another label referring to "need," so all our labels now refer to the degree of poverty at a school.

Projects from schools with a 40%+ free/reduced lunch rate—Title 1 and high-need schools, together—constituted 82% of all the projects posted/funded on DonorsChoose.org last year.

Hope that helps!

-Charles Best, Founder, DonorsChoose.org

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