Politics and comedy make their way to Philadelphia this April, searching for the “truthiness” behind funding in a struggling Pennsylvania education system.
Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, will be taping in Philadelphia just a week before the state’s Democratic primary, while also raising money to support Pennsylvania public schools.
The show will partner with DonorsChoose.org, a non-profit organization that allows teachers to make requests for the supplies they need and donors to give to the specific projects they want to fund.
Colbert is asking viewers to help him “celebrate the Democralypse,” a reference to the near deadlock battle between Democratic candidate hopefuls, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
In what Colbert calls “the only straw poll that makes a difference,” those wishing to give can choose which candidate’s name will be attached to their donation..
More than $120,000 has been raised as of April 3, nearly doubling the $66,000 that went to public schools in Colbert’s home state of South Carolina during his brief presidential bid last fall, when he also used DonorsChoose.org to raise money.
Prior to September 2007, DonorsChoose.org was only located in eight states, but has since expanded to cover schools throughout the entire country.
“These are teachers that need pencils and dictionaries and books and things that would just break your heart to see they don’t have in their classroom,” said Katie Bisbee, executive director for the Atlantic Region of DonorsChoose.org.
“Teachers, on average, spend $500 to $600 of their own money on classroom supplies, and even with those dollars that they’re spending of their own money, there’s still such need in their classrooms.”
Bisbee said 80 percent of the projects in Pennsylvania funded through DonorsChoose.org have been at high-need schools, a factor that is determined by the number of students on the National School Lunch Program.
One request made in Philadelphia was for more than $1,000 to a school of 400 students. The money was used to purchase nearly 300 candles for a peace rally as a visual representation of the number of murders in the city during 2007.
“The candles will give us another way to show our students and parents how violence is destroying our city,” the proposal on the DonorsChoose.org Web site read.
The proposal went on to describe both the schools lack of funding and the failing state of wellbeing among some of the city’s children.
“Our budget last year was cut $90,000, and more is expected to be taken this year. We have barely enough money for supplies the students need and definitely no money to buy ‘extras.’ About 99 percent of our students are below the poverty line. Five percent of that population [is] considered homeless,” the proposal read, in part.
Many question what is wrong with the education system and why teachers must cover the expenses that are not being provided for by the government.
“I don’t think there’s a simple answer on that,” Bisbee said. “[But the] philosophy we have is that teachers know their students best, and they’re the best qualified to know what gets their students excited about reading or math.”
The partnership between DonorsChoose.org and The Colbert Report started in October when guest Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.com, appeared on the show, announcing a challenge that he had setup on the Web site in Colbert’s name.
In a blog post on DonorsChoose.org, chief technology officer Oliver Hurst-Hiller wrote, “Our site was flat-out overwhelmed by the massive traffic that resulted from [the announcement] around midnight on Thursday, Oct. 18.”
“We’re really excited about this opportunity … and blown away by how much citizens have been giving across the country. These are not just Pennsylvania donors,” Bisbee said.
The Colbert Report will be taped at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Art’s Zellerbach Theater at the University of Pennsylvania, and will air April 14 to 17 at 11:30 p.m. All shows are sold out.