Auditor issues report urging Ohio schools to create crowdfunding policies

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COLUMBUS - It's no secret that many teachers dig into their own pockets to get supplies for their classrooms. As teachers are getting more creative to find ways to cut down on those costs, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is warning them to be careful.

A national survey of teachers and principals done by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 94% of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies without getting reimbursed. On average, those teachers spent about $479 out of pocket. A report from the auditor's office says Ohio teachers may spend as much as $600.

With those rising costs, more Ohio teachers are using crowdfunding websites to get donations to help pay for educational materials. While Yost says crowdfunding is okay, he's urging schools to put policies in place to spell out exactly what's allowed and what isn't. Currently, Yost says fewer than half of Ohio's school districts have a written policy on crowdfunding.

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Auditor Yost added: "While crowdfunding can be an important source of funds and materials to enhance learning, it also comes with some risks. Adopting a crowdfunding policy can help school district administrators and teachers avoid these risks. Many school districts have policies in place, but our survey found that many do not."

Yost says the risks of crowdfunding include compromising student confidentiality, diversion of donations for private use, inviting federal or state scrutiny of educational programs and bad publicity for the school district if a crowdfunding campaign is mishandled.

Ohio Auditor's office crowdfunding policy recommendations for school districts:

• Require that all crowdfunding campaigns be reviewed and approved by a designated school administrator.
• Direct the designated administrator to ensure that the proposed crowdfunding campaign does not violate any federal or state law, including those governing the confidentiality of student information.
• Ensure that the campaign seeks donations that comport with the district's educational philosophy, needs, and technical infrastructure.
• Designate which crowdfunding services can be used by teachers. These should be services that send donations directly to the school to ensure that they are not diverted or misused.
• Require that district officials determine if participation with a given crowdfunding site obligates the school district to assume any responsibility to file government-required reports of charitable activities.
• Require that donations be used for the stated purpose.
• Mandate that no donations be accepted without school board approval.
• Establish that all crowdfunding donations are the property of the school district, to be entered promptly into the district property inventory or deposited in district bank accounts so that they are subject to normal financial oversight and auditing.

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