Imagine if you walked into a new job and learned that you were expected to supply your own materials to do that job to the best of your ability.
That's the conundrum faced by an overwhelming 94 percent of teachers, who spent $479 of their own money, on average, during the 2014–15 school year, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics released in May. That same study showed that 9 percent of elementary school teachers spent even more, logging expenses in excess of $1,001 for the year.
Locally, teachers in Bucks and Montgomery Counties weighed in on the question of personal spending for school supplies in a recent small and informal Facebook poll.
The highest number of respondents spent between $251 and $500. Some reported that their expenses exceeded that number, with one individual tallying more than $1,001. One educator stated that she doesn't "get any budget as a special education teacher," and another indicated that it "depends on the year but last year I spent a lot when I did flexible seating."
Teachers purchase not only basic supplies but also clothing, food, and personal hygiene items for students who would otherwise go without. Taken together, these expenditures can total more than $1 billion every year out of their pockets.
In recent years, some teachers have turned to crowd-sourced websites to raise funds for their classrooms, but we wonder why adequate funds are not allocated to cover the basics and the enriching materials that are required to bring a 21st century classroom to life.
In some districts, educators pay for basics such as paper and pencils, but in others their funds cover the "extras."
Do these materials really matter? Teachers believe that a classroom that is engaging and well-decorated with sufficient supplies for creative learning can be transforming, especially for students from low-income homes. Those classrooms help to make students more assured and expand their limits. For example, the crowdfunded website Donorschoose.org indicates that "94 percent of teachers said their funded projects increased their effectiveness in the classroom."
As teachers, we believe that our students deserve the materials and stimulation that make learning exciting, and that placing this additional financial burden on teachers is unfair. In the ongoing conversations about local and state education funding, we need to advocate for common-sense solutions that provide teachers and students with sufficient resources and enrichment so that every child can excel without educators reaching further into their own pockets.
Isn't it time to take another look at this issue?