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Oklahoma Teacher Panhandles to Raise Money for Classroom Supplies

school supplies.jpg

Teresa Danks raised $32 on a highway overpass last week—but her sign begging for school supplies has since raised thousands of dollars. 

Danks, a 3rd grade teacher in the Tulsa, Okla., district, was frustrated with the seemingly never-ending stream of budget cuts imposed by the state legislature. "We're trying to figure out what are they going to cut next, and what else is there to cut?" she said in an interview. 

The cuts to education funding have meant that teachers are asked to fill in the gaps and pay for their school supplies out-of-pocket. A Scholastic survey last fall found that on average, teachers spend $530 of their own money on classroom items. Teachers in high-poverty schools spend an average of $672. 

Danks' husband jokingly suggested she turn to panhandling to raise money for her school supplies—but Danks realized the idea could actually work.

"I thought that would be an awesome photograph for Facebook to try to send a message and try to get a buzz and promote some donations for classroom supplies," she said. 

Danks made a sign that said, "Teacher needs money for school supplies! Anything helps. Thank you," and added a smiley face and a heart. Her husband dropped her off on the corner of a highway exit. Danks was there for less than 10 minutes, but received many messages of support and thank yous, along with the small donations.  

"I left that corner with $32, but feeling like, wow, the thought of it seemed to hit home," she said.

After she posted the picture of the sign on Facebook, a local news station asked her if she would re-enact the pandhandling for a segment. Danks was there for another 10 minutes and received more small donations and thank yous.   

"I could really just tell that the community was behind us, even though the legislators don't seem to be," she said.

Now, her sign and its message has spread across the country. She was on Good Morning America. And a GoFundMe request that she set up has reached over $25,000 in donations. 

Danks plans to set up a foundation to get school supplies in the hands of Tulsa teachers—with hopes of expanding into the rest of the state, and maybe, the nation.  

She also wants to keep pushing state legislators to restore education funding, and work to enact a pay raise. Oklahoma ranks last in the nation in terms of teacher pay. The issue has caused Shawn Sheehan, the state's 2016 teacher of the year, to publicly announce plans to leave Oklahoma for a better-paying teaching position in Texas. Danks said she has been in contact with a few state legislators since her story has gone viral, and she hopes to have meetings in the next few weeks.

"I'm trying to be a voice for other teachers," she said.  

But first, Danks will buy supplies for her own classroom. She said she mainly needs craft supplies for her 3rd graders—pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes, googly eyes, paint—because the art classes in her school were cut. She tries to bring art in her classroom as much as possible, she said.

She also wants to buy alternative seating to make the classroom environment more relaxed and fun. 

And then, it's on to the rest of the district classrooms.

Image by Jonathan Roark, courtesy of Danks

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