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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Readers' Survey 2007: Amount You Spend Out of Pocket Each Year on Classroom Supplies

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

$500 or More

We can see those checking accounts shrinking before our very eyes! Nearly half of you told us you spend $500 or more. Shockingly, more than one in three of those heavy spenders shells out more than $1,000 a year, up to a high of $3,500. Oh, my. Responses ranged from the magnanimous ("I don't care what I spend -- the results are worth it") to the miserly ("$0 -- I refuse to pay for what I can put in the budget"). But the consistent message in response after response was simply "Way too much!"

Our Take

Payback

If you're tapping your own funds for the sake of your students, David Holmstrom, a licensed tax preparer in Brookline, Massachusetts, has advice on how to get some of that investment back from Uncle Sam. It's tough to deduct it the usual way, by itemizing purchases on Schedule A, because classroom expenses rarely outweigh the standard deduction anyone can take. "Congress therefore decided to give educators a special break not available to other employees," Holmstrom says. "They can take up to $250 as an adjustment -- that is, they can subtract it from their income -- whether or not they itemize deductions."

If you're in the 25 percent tax bracket, he says, this adjustment is worth fifty dollars to you -- not enough, surely, but something. The allowance covers out-of-pocket costs for classroom supplies and is available only to teachers, counselors, principals, and aides in private and public K-12 schools who worked at least 900 hours during the year.

Here's the catch: Congress approved the educator adjustment for this year after the tax forms were printed. So, Holmstrom explains, teachers must put the $250 on line 23 of Form 1040 (the line that says "Archer MSA deduction") and write an E on the line to indicate it's an educator expense. He adds, "Isn't the IRS great?"

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Linda Gray's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I spend way too much each year on classroom supplies for my students. I would rather spend the money myself than have my students go without. I send home a list of supplies for students, but many times the students do not bring the items in, or they are used or lost quickly. Sometimes, parents don't realize how quickly pencils and paper can be used up or broken or lost.
For me, it is more important for students to have supplies available than to try to make their parents send in the proper supplies. Once, I even had an angry mother call me up and complain that I let her child use up her pencil and paper too quickly. This was in December and to my knowledge, the child only brought in one pencil and a stack of about 20 sheets of paper.
I try to buy my supplies at Walmart in August when you can purchase spiral notebooks for $0.05 and packages of 10 pencils for $0.10. Our teacher's union tells us we shouldn't buy from Walmart because they are non-union, but I can not afford to shop anywhere else when I am buying for 25 students.

Karen Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Again I am a graduate student at Walden University. I have now realized how lucky I am, we receive $200.00 each year from the school for our supplies. I use this money for pencils, crayons, construction paper, and so on. This is not enough to keep a classroom full but it helps get it started. I figure I send about $300-$400 a year on top of what my school gives me. It's amazing how quick items are lost, wear out or are simply not working for a new group of students and you must look for another way to help a child make the connection. I do try to laminate anything that I create or buy so that I can use it from year to year. It is amazing to me to see how much personal money and personal time teachers are expected to put in to their jobs. I guess that is something you do when you love your job.

Caryn Letts's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! My name is Caryn Letts and I have been teaching 6th grade English for 5 years in Maryland. I can spend around $500 easy in a school year. Lucky for me, my school district does give us $100 to spend towards classroom materials. But I find that I spend my money early in the year and then I am left with 6 months or so spending my own money. Overall, I can't complain about the resources my school provides. They always have tons of colored copy paper for us and just the standard school supplies. So that makes it nice.

Diane Isaac's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a New York City High School Teacher and a graduate student at Walden University. I presently teach Global History and Geography to freshmen and Economics to seniors. Over the past six years, I have spent literally thousands of dollars on supplies for my classroom with very little returns. We receive "teacher's choice" checks at the beginning of every school year. It has usually been $250,but this time we are getting $150. Even though we get this money to offset the out of pocket costs for supplies, my school's copy center asks us to give either all, or some of it back. Most teachers give back the money every year. So there is no real compensation for what we spend. What bothers me the most is that high school students seem to be made less and less accountable for their own personal classroom materials. Why is it, that elementary school students come home with a list of supplies they need for school but that stops completely at the commencement of high school? I am tired of seeing my highlighters, pens, and pencils thrown on the floor.

Jason Hite's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Amanda! I agree with your viewpoint on not being able to deny the necessities of students. It always amazes me every year when students come to school without basic supplies such as pencils. I go through several hundred pencils every year. After my first few years of teaching, I stopped keeping track of how much money I was spending on my students. I always stock up at the beginning of the school year when the good deals and sales are taking place at the major retail chains. It never seems like enough, though. I guess when I see kids come to school wearing the same clothes day after day, me spending a few bucks on them to help be more successful in school is the least I can do. Thank you for being a caring and compassionate educator.

Ed Kowalski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know I spend a lot of money on my students. I quickly added it up in my head and I spend about $1000 a year on supplies, food , and materials. If I could I would spend more. I have been teaching third grade for eight years going on nine and I have a hard time saying no to myself. Our district gives us $100 for supplies and $300 for professional development. Like other districts if you don't send in for it early there won't be any left. I work at a title school a lot of children come to school in the same clothes and come without supplies, I could go through the many channels to get the money or items but it is just so much easier to just go out and get it than to jump through all the hoops. For me sure it is hard to sometimes to get those bills paid off but the kids are worth it.

Tammy Almand's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes and No! Yes, this will go on and on. We are very underpaid, some more than others. No, we will not stop spending our hard earned money on things for our students. GOOD teachers go the extra mile to make sure their students "get it". I call us "The Whatever It Takes Teachers" which you fit the title to a T. Welcome to the club girlfriend.

Jennifer Rockwood's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, my name is Jennifer Rockwood and I am a Walden University student as well.

I have also spent thousands of dollars on classroom supplies in my somewhat short time of teaching. My school gives us $100 a year for supplies and we are lucky enough to get construction paper and pencils at the beginning of the year. However, my students come from disadvantaged homes and in three years, I have only had two students bring in any school supplies. I have to buy everything from their notebooks and pencils to paper towels and cleaners for the classroom. Add in rewards, treats, and office supplies and the money just adds up. I buy all of these things because my students and classroom needs it. However, justifying these extra expenses to my husband while trying to pay for household expenses adds a burden to our finances that in reality, shouldn't be. But I'll continue doing it because again, my students and their families cannot. I appreciate the tax advice and will make sure that I discuss this information with my tax advisor.

Emily Bowen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Who knew teaching was so expensive! LOL I am a new teacher and am currently working on my master's at Walden University. I teach 4 year olds.They love hands on activities. I love to have at least one hands on activity per week. I feel as though my kids (PreK)learn alot with hands on activities. I am lucky that I am single and I am not having to support a family. I am able to use more money from my personal income because of this. Though, I try to stay within a budget of $10-$15 per month. which can be difficult sometimes. The Dollar Store is awesome!
Also, I am a firm believer in accepting what is given. If I have a parent ask if I need anything I always keep a list of needed materials handy. If we don't use the donated items right away, we will eventually. having this list handy helps because sometimes I can't remember off the top of my head. I will definitely remmeber to get my $250 this year.

Kesha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a grad student at Walden University. I have participated in other blogs but this is my first time participating in an educational blog. I found this topic to be very interesting, because I too am guilty of spending my own personal money in my classroom. This is my sixth year in the classroom, and over the years I can honestly say that I have spent thousands on things that my allocation money could not provide. In past years we were fortunate enough to receive about $400 in allocation to by classroom materials, but that did not cover the Uniforms, Snacks, and extra supplies I had to purchase for my classroom. This year we only have $150 so I am going to try to use it wisely. Just alone this year I have spent a couple of hundred. Hopefully I will remember to take advantage of that deduction, because every little bit counts.

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