How Much are Teachers Investing In Their Students?

Connexeo - 07/26/2018

One of the feel-good stories of mid-July was that of Chicago teacher Kimber Bermudez who, while flying to Florida to see her parents, spoke to a fellow passenger about her life teaching low-income students at a charter school.

Suddenly, a man sitting in the row behind her handed her a stack of cash that she later discovered totaled $500. Another man gave her $20 and a third man $10 after the plane landed. Her school has received yet another $1,500 from people who heard the story.

That original $500 was just about the average of what a classroom teacher spends out-of-pocket for school supplies, according to a U.S. Department of Education (DOE) survey. This spending is likely on teachers’ minds now, as they start thinking about preparing their classrooms for the 2018-19 school year that begins in four to six weeks.

“It’s almost expected, especially in the summer months creeping up into September,” Queens pre-K teacher Andy Yung told The New York Times. “It’s just something we kind of naturally do.”

The DOE survey, which was released in May but focused on the 2014-15 academic year, found that 94% of teachers at all levels spent personal money on school supplies. A slightly higher percentage of elementary teachers (95%) dug into their wallets than did secondary teachers (93%). And “only” 86% of teachers that did not participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program used personal funds.

Some 7% of teachers spent $1,000 or more out of pocket, while 44% spent $250 or less. Thirty-six percent gifted $251-$500.

The teachers are buying materials that the school doesn’t provide and that are not on the school-approved supply list given to parents. They are generally items used in the classroom or that the teachers individually believe will enhance the instruction of their students.

Such things, according to a report by Honolulu TV station KHON, can include colorful calendars, fun fabric and seasonal erasers. Second-grade teacher Jenifer Evans buys color-coded folders, which she pre-numbers with students’ numbers so the children are ready to go at the first bell – even if parents have been lax in picking up required supplies.

Evans is one of the 7% of teachers who spent $1,000 or more on supplies. She does it, she told the TV station, because she believes it helps her students learn.

Honolulu schools sometimes will offer some reimbursement – which can be tracked and administered through school payment software – but it doesn’t cover all costs. New York’s Yung said the city’s schools will reimburse teachers up to $100 for personal expenditures, only about 20% of a teacher’s average out-of-pocket costs.

And, of course, teachers can claim up to $250 in such expenses on their federal income taxes. The deliberations over last year’s tax reform bill could have sent this in either direction, with the House of Representatives voting to eliminate the deduction and the Senate voting to double it to $500. The compromise bill split it down the middle and kept the status quo: $250.

Many teachers are turning to crowdfunding to help defray their expenses. A favorite venue is Donors Choose, in which teachers post projects and needs in search of donations. Users who allow the website to use a geographic locater will show projects in the viewer’s area.

And, there’s the old standby: Asking each class parent to donate a box of tissues, or pack of hand-sanitizer bottles, or whatever. Though this sometimes incites parental ire, it is a way for everyone to contribute equally to the classroom without dipping further into the teacher’s pocket.

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