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CT is among the wealthiest states in U.S., but teachers still rely on donations for their classrooms

Danbury High School teacher Justin Hitchcock is using GoFundMe to raise $3,000 for a computer program that would help multilingual students learning English. It would benefit over 250 students at his school he says are struggling to maintain a high school vocabulary.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Danbury High School teacher Justin Hitchcock is using GoFundMe to raise $3,000 for a computer program that would help multilingual students learning English. It would benefit over 250 students at his school he says are struggling to maintain a high school vocabulary.

At the beginning of every school year, teachers across the country and in Connecticut spend their own money on classroom supplies and programs they believe their students can benefit from.

They’re often faced with the daunting task of fundraising for their own classrooms through fundraising platforms like GoFundMe.

Justin Hitchcock, an English teacher at Danbury High School, estimates he spends around $1,000 of his own money every year on classroom supplies. He said schools normally ask if teachers need specific items, but it’s never guaranteed.

But this year, Hitchcock said he won’t ask for anything for his classroom because there are new teachers that deserve classroom supplies more.

“Over the summer, I bought a notebook for every student so they can have it. I don't want to ask them to get it,” Hitchcock said. “And it's good for the community and growth of the classroom.”

Students seem to be more interested in learning when they have all the supplies they need, he says. So that's why he likes to start the school year by making sure all the students have at least a notebook.

A survey done by the U.S. Department of Education shows that over 90% of teachers have to reach into their own pocket to supply their classrooms. Other school staff such as bus drivers, front office staff, classroom aides and custodians all use their own money to help out their schools.

Other research done by the National Education Association said that the unstated expectation that teachers will spend their own money on supplies and equipment are factors that drive them away from the profession.

Leslie Blatteau, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, understands what this demands from educators across the state, especially those in underfunded districts.

“It also really infuriates me that here we are in one of the wealthiest states in this country, and teachers have to fundraise,” Blatteau said. “This doesn't seem like a model that is going to help us attract, recruit, retain educators.”

Kate Conetta, a Danbury Board of Education member, said there needs to be a bigger discussion on how schools are funded. Most are from local property taxes, which puts a disadvantage on schools in low-income communities.

“The system's tough, because it's based on where you live and how much you pay in taxes and how much the community pays in taxes,” Conetta said. And if you look at the state of Connecticut ... our living areas are segregated.”

Conetta said the city council is in a difficult position because the school budget is already 50% of the overall budget for the city, which she said is substantial, but most schools are still underfunded.

“In Danbury, historically in the last 15 years or so, we've had this very difficult situation with our finances where the board makes a request, and the mayor's office and the city council don't fully fund that request,” she said.

Hitchcock is currently raising $3,000 through GoFundMe for a computer program that would help multilingual students learning English. It would benefit over 250 students at his school, who he says are struggling to maintain a high school vocabulary.

“It gives them access to language and learning that they wouldn't have otherwise,” he said. “Our multilingual population is very underserved. Having something like this can really help.”

Half of the population at Danbury High School are Latino, many primarily speak languages like Spanish and Portuguese.

Hitchcock says the amount of ESL students entering Danbury schools will only significantly increase over the next couple years and the district doesn’t currently have the resources to support these new students.

If he doesn’t fundraise the money for the language program, he and another teacher will split the cost out-of-pocket. They believe their students deserve fair access to education just as much as native English speakers have.

“A lot of teachers will turn a blind eye to things that they know work because they can’t afford it,” he said. “Hopefully the people who are making those decisions about money, and where it goes, are doing the right thing. We have to have trust in that too.”

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.