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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


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?"


2007 Readers' Survey Index

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Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While I agree with you, I have to say my viewpoint is the complete opposite. While I understand that the district has money or is wasteful, how can I deny my students the necessities of school? In the district where I teach, the students rarely come to school with all the materials needed to complete the school year. I buy so much out of my own pocket, but I am glad to be able to do that for my students. If they are not prepared, do I just forget about them and teach those who have pencils and notebooks? Compassion comes with teaching and as teachers, we need to show students what compassion means. I shop the sales at the beginning of the year and spend little of my money because I find the deals. I have family members who also will donate money and their time to shop for school supplies. Even though we get little money from the district each year, I save that for "big ticket" items like printer cartridges or transparencies. One of my favorite places to shop is Staples - they always have 1 cent specials. They usually have a limit, but teachers can have 25 of whatever the item is - that is enough for a class set. I can not sit by inactive when I know that my students need basic supplies to learn. Maybe there are other schools out there where students come prepared with all learning supplies, but not in my area. As a professional, I need to show compassion and that I care them and their success.

Laura Hunt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi! I'm Laura and I am a graduate student at Walden University. I am currently in my third year as a junior high teacher. The first year I started teaching, I spend well over $200.00 just before school started, so I had things to decorate my classroom. Throughout the school year I also purchased little things here and there. The next school year I mentioned how much I spent on classrooms supplies to a colleague and she told me that each teacher has a $75.00 limit that they could spend on classroom supplies and they could get reinbursed. If we I don't use that money, I will never see it. Now, in my third year of teaching, I plan to use my spending limit, because spending out of pocket money on school supplies can be very expensive.

Laura Hunt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Stacy! I am also a student at Walden University in my graduate program. I too feel that I spend way to much out of pocket on school supplies for students. My school has a $75.00 classroom limit that each teacher is allowed to use per school year. If we don't use that money, then it goes back into a fund for the school. This is my third year teaching and I plan on using this method of saving a little money but, as you may know, its not nearly enough!

Lolita Blackwell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Lolita and I am a third grade teacher in Maryland. I am also a graduate student at Walden University. Believe it or not, I just purchased supplies for my students. While I was in the store, I was thinking how nice it would be to not have to spend my own money on these supplies. However, I know if I do not, my students will go without.

I try not to spend unless it is absolutely necessary. I try to make things instead of buying. For example, I make the letters that would go on my bulleting board. My school has an excellent teacher supply room, we are able to create our own posters, in color. We also have a laminator, this enables me to use what I create year after year.

Maria Borbon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am lucky that I work in a district that gives their teachers $150.00 to buy classroom supplies from office depot. We need to order the supplies online and have them deliver to our school, so that the secretary can then mail the receipt to the school district as proof of purchase. Eventhough, I am receive financial help from the district, I still end up spending my own money to get additional classroom supplies. We are only in October and I had to replace our classroom sharpner, timer used in small group instruction,computer paper, markers, chart paper and the list goes on. I am greatful for the $150.00 that I get from the district, but that is not enough. I usually spend about $300 to 340 when I budget my money carefully. I do not know of any other professionals, that work for the city, state, or federal government, that are expected to spend their hard earned cash.

Maria Borbon

Maria Borbon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Lauura, I am, also, a Walden University graduate student and I have one advice use your $75.00 as soon as possible because the district funds can get quickly depleted and you will be left out in the cold. Good luck with your junior high school students and I look forward to blogging with you soon.

Maria Borbon

Cherese Kasper's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! My name is Cherese Kasper, and I am a graduate student at Walden University. I have been teaching music for 4 years now, and I have probably over the last four years spent close to $1,000 on supplies. My first year I taught at a charter school, and they actually reimbursed me for whatever supplies I bought. It wasn't until I taught in a public school that I spent even more, and of course we are not reimbursed. Sometimes it is such a pain to obtain a purchase order to buy supplies, and it is much easier to go out and get it.

With the economy currently the way it is, I have heard my principals say too many times that "There is no capital", "I don't know how much we have to spend yet," so I have forgone some things this school year. I can't afford to keep buying things, so I am coming up with new and creative ways to try to save on positive rewards for my classes.

Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student at Walden University as well and I am in my second year of teaching fourth grade. Last year,I spent A TON! I came into an old room, that had never been decorated, faded posters, ragged cloth on the closets, hand me down books and really old desks. I spent a lot of my own money waaaaay before school started on not only every day supplies but bulletin board items, organizational tubs, even tennis balls for the bottoms of desks so not to scratch the floor! I then started the school year and was given $150 to reimburse or go out and spend on supplies and I went out and spent on supplies! I am always going above and beyond to please my students and give them the very best, which I have quickly learned is the expensive way. Last year with just 20 students, it was "do-able"...this year with the giagantic class sizes of 27 I'm afraid they might not get as much as last years class and this saddens me. I still continue to provide what I can for them. The Dollar Store is my new best friend! So I feel for us all that have to spend so much out of pocket, on top of what ever else this crazy economy is putting on us! It's rough, but I know that my kids will enjoy whatever it is I do for them and the boards will always get put up and look good! Thanks for everyone's response, eases my mind to know that I'm not the only one and that it doesn't just happen in your first 2 years!

Melissa Oksala's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, my name is Melissa and I am a Walden University student studying to receive a Masters in Special Education. This is my first time "blogging," I am pleasantly surprised about how easy it is to find topics that are interesting to me, AND that affect me, as an educator!

I have been a self-contained teacher in NJ for 7 years now and I have spent approximately $3,000 in supplies over the years. Just this afternoon on my prep period, I headed out to "Beckers Parent/Teacher" store to pick up some Math reinforcements. I left the store with my credit card being charged $187.83. This occurrence happens frequently, as I teach full replacement for all subjects to grades 1 and 2. Being a special education teacher, you must provide a modified curriculum for each student. On a typical day I teach 3-4 different reading lessons, 4 different math lessons, 2 different social studies/science lessons and try my best at whole group social skills/listening comprehension lessons. However, even when I attempt whole groups at times, it becomes clear to me that I must split them up depending on instructional levels, grade level and behaviors that impede academic progress.

With all this being considered, I must be able to provide appropriate instruction for each student in my class. When I began teaching in my school, I had to beg, borrow and steal to get my hands on the reading and math curriculum!! I still do not have all of the materials I need and it's been 7 years. Some components of the curriculum are not appropriate for my students, so I need to modify greatly, going as far as completely replacing it in order for my students to understand the main objectives. For me to do this, I must have a wide variety of materials for each subject and unfortunately, I have no choice but to purchase the materials I need myself.

My school allows me $150 to spend on classroom supplies, but we all know how fast you can spend that. It is never enough for all the supplies and each year I wind up spending 3x that over the summer to prepare for my students' arrival.

Through my searching, I have found wonderful websites that provide lessons and reproducible worksheets, but you must pay an annual fee to receive full access to resources.

I agree with one of the above bloggers: I don't know of any other profession where purchasing your own materials is necessary in order to do your job well, especially when our profession is paid less than most.

I realize times are tough now with the economy, but does anyone think that this issue will ever change or will teachers be spending their own hard earned money forever?

Cristen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! I'm a Walden University graduate student, too. This is my first time blogging, and I am happy to say that I have enjoyed reading the posts. It makes me realize how many other people are in the same situation.

Since I started teaching in 2002, I have literally spent thousands of dollars on my classrooms. I have had a different classroom every year and have taught 6 different grades, ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade. Of course, each grade requires different materials, so I have purchased tons of stuff each year.

I want to do a good job teaching and I want my students to have the materials that they need to make learning more enjoyable, so each year I continue to purchase more items for my classroom. My school gives each teacher $125 to order supplies for the year, including basics such as paper, pencils, crayons, glue, etc... Needless to say, this is not nearly enough money.

Although I appreciate the $250 tax credit, it would be nice if the government could/would somehow to do more to help with the expenses that educators incur.

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