Readers' Survey 2007: Amount You Spend Out of Pocket Each Year on Classroom Supplies | Edutopia
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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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Michele W's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you completely! Personally, I also think that the amount that an educator can deduct during tax time should be raised. $200.00? Come on, I spend that amount in July before school even starts!

I am the grade level chair at the school in which I teach, which means that I am in charge of the budget and I have to account for all of the purchases that we make. It is very hard to tell six adults that the "funds" are gone. I know that all of the teachers that I work with purchase supplies in the summer before school starts, I often get July e-mails where the subject line states "$.25 for glue at WalMart" or "$.50 composition notebooks at Target".
In the district where I teach, we give parents a supply "wish list" before school starts, but on this list there is a disclaimer which basically states that "this is a suggested list of supplies, if you do not purchase them for your child they will still be supplied with what is needed in the classroom". Never does it state: If you don't purchase these supplies your child's teacher will have to spend their own money to purchase these things(since their budgets are usually spent in May of the previous year). Got to love free public education!

s's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Almost Homeless

I too began to spend a lot of my money when I first started teaching, until I got a pink slip, and almost left homeless. Now I only spend on things that I "need" and not what I "want." My out of pocket spending limit is $250.00 a year. My money goes toward class projects and rewards for my kids. I have learned to ask parents for help and most have come through. My journey, since I entered the field of education, has changed my view on how I spend my money.

S Ortiz
MA in Ed.
Walden University

Dawn Fenton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a spender!

It's interesting that I came upon this blog after the last few days of spending for school. Walmart is having their back-to-school sales and I am back-to-school shopping with a vengeance! We receive $200 for supplies each year, but, like everything else, the catalog that our school uses for school supplies increased their prices this year and with a class count of thirty students in third grade it's not nearly enough. I have always purchased my own crayons, folders, notebooks, scissors, prizes, and decorative items (along with a myriad of other things) out of my own pocket, primarily because it can be purchased at Walmart so much cheaper. We do receive an additional $100 from our PTO but we must still purchase first and turn in receipts later. Between my trip to the teacher store yesterday and Walmart today I have shelled out approximately $140.And, I'm not finished. To me, it is well worth it. The supplies I buy are simply the tools that are necessary to do my job. Could I do without some of the things I buy? Certainly. However, I spend a lot of time at school and I love my job and my students so the environment I create and the lessons I plan are very important to me. I want my students to have the best educational experience possible and make my job go as smoothly as I can. One smile from a student makes it all worthwhile.

Matthew's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Spending money for my students is something that I probably go overboard with. I also would do anything for my students to improve the quality of their educational experience in my classroom. I teach 8th grade history and a colleague of mine plan and implement many activities to demonstrate different topics that we are covering. Many oif these activities involve extra spending outside of the usual classroom supplies. We spent over $1000 last year alone (the two of us combined) on these supplies. In my opinion, it was absolutely worth every penny. The students loved the activities and they would not have been possible without the extra expense from us.

I agree that this extra spending is part of our job as teachers. It is a responsibility to create the best possible learning environment for our students. Teachers who take the moral stand and refuse to spend that extra money to supplement their teaching are missing the point. You went into this profession to make a difference because you care for your students. I don't know too many teachers who do it for the money. I spent a lot last year and I will spend a lot this year.

Every year around Christmas time and the end of the year I receive many presents from the students and/or their parents. These may be the usual chocolate, movie tickets, candy, even candles. I have been known to casually mention gift cards to the teacher store as a possible gift idea. I don't mean to sound greedy but if the parents are going to spend 10 or 20 dollars on things that i don't need (candy) then why not steer them in the direction of a very useful gift like a gift card to the teacher store. This will also show your passion for your students as parents and students see the expenses that go with teaching. I received about $100 worth of gift cards last year. That's a lot of money. My waistline and my wallet appreciate these gifts. No more chocolate, just gift cards!!

Michael's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging, and like several others in this blog, am a graduate student at Walden University. I have been teaching sixth-grade mathematics for three years now.

Why spend money out of our pocket? Because it's for the kids. While I realize that we all have personal budgets and guidelines on how much we are able to spend, we have to consider what the spending is for. It is to better educate the children we teach. As someone else mentioned, first consider if the item is necessary. Will it help educate a child? Will it make them happier? Will it be a worthwhile award? Will it be fun and make an impact (in learning or via a pleasant memory)? If so, then we should buy it, within our means. The reality is that school budgets are not nearly enough. If we keep in mind that it is for the benefit of a child, then we should spend it. If it is questionable whether or not it will work, then don't. I consider myself a teaching professional. And professionals need tools to do their job. It is just an expense I have to accept as a professional educator. If we see ourselves as professionals needing tools for our craft, then the spending pill will be less difficult to swallow.

Michael S.
Walden University
NJ Public School Teacher

Christine Stebbing's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know exactly how you feel! I spent on average of somewhere between $500-700 every year and would think nothing of picking up things here or there for my classroom during my weekly Target trips. After I received a pink slip in March I basically eliminated all out of pocket classroom spending. And, you know what? My teaching and classroom survived perfectly fine! It forced my to become more creative with what I had and to ask the students to help out. I offered group points for students who brought in easily accessible items such as Kleenex, binder paper and glue sticks. It wasn't required but I had many families who helped out. I teach in a very low socioeconomic area, but the parents were willing to spend two or three dollars a month. Two dollars times thirty students- that's sixty dollars towards basic classroom items!

I have very mixed feelings on supplementing classroom budgets from personal wallents. It definitely does make life easier when we have the materials and tools we need. But, on the other hand, no one asks police officers to buy their own bullets. My husband doesn't have to bring his own red pens to his editing job. Most of us go above and beyond every day, intellectually, emotionally and physically. I admit to being a little bitter about sharing my salary as well.

Like everything in life I think you just have to find a happy medium and do what works for you. Some people are happy with, and financially able, donating hundreds and thousands of dollars to their class. Some just aren't. The bottom line: if you are providing the best education possible, than it really doesn't matter if you are spending five dollars or five thousand.

Christine Stebbin
MA in Ed.
Walden University

Bobby Sims's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Dawn, my name is Bobby Sims and I am a student at Walden University working on my Masters in education. This is my first experience with blogging but I find it very interesting. However, I do agree with your concern on spending. I am a middle school science teacher in Georgia, and I will spend hundreds of dollars on science materials for labs. I found that the best way for my kids to learn science is through hands-on experiments. My school allows a budget of $200.00 per teacher per year, however; this money must include other items such as copier paper, transparencies, and etc. I think you get the point. When you are done ordering supplies for your class, there is no money left for manipulatives for the subject matter. I know that spending in this economy is crucial, but I want my students to grasp the concepts that I am teaching. I am totally concern about my students being successful in class.

Emmanuel 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My reality is that since I started teaching I have spent a lot of money on my students. At first, I used to buy candies for them; now, I pay the copies for them or I buy wallpapers, or something like that. My students thanked me what I do for them. I have to recognize that when I have a tight budget I asked them. Obviously, I do not explain to them that I do not have money, but I tell them that I forgot to make the copies or to print the material.

Christianne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you Matthew. This extra spending comes with the job because our jobs are unlike other professions. We are working directly with impressionable children who rely on us completely. Every word we speak, step we take, and activity we create in the classroom is for them. We realize that to make a true difference in their lives, we may have to do something other professionals do not, we have to care. I am not saying that to spend your own money is what is making a difference in the students' lives, but a true professional will put the needs of the client first.

While I have spent hundreds of dollars year after year, I have learned what is most important to purchase and hopefully have spent less in the later years. This past year I have not given out pencils (unless it was a reward/birthday) when my students came to class unprepared. It was a hard choice since my students are not coming from wealthy families. I saw it more as an opportunity to try and teach responsibility as opposed to saving my money. I told my fifth graders at the beginning of the year that if they did not have a pencil, they could either borrow one or see if there was one in the "lost and found" basket in our room. A friend usually would share because I had told them they would have to do the classwork at home if they could not complete it in class. I like to think that maybe this helped some students hold tight to their pencils the entire day and it taught some students that it pays to be nice to your classmates. You may need them someday!

candice 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can understand your comment about setting limits on spending. New teachers especially want to spend their own money to get the things they "want". You are right we spend a lot of money on things but do we really need or want them. Yes they do make our job easier or shall I say fun for all involved. We need to consider when we are spending that we fed into the American way of consumerism. We teach our kids to spend in such a way that sometimes it gets out of control. Debt has surrounded not only the family but also the American Government. Look at the National Debt which has affect all of us, all around us. That is why so many people are out of work and the homeless rate rises daily.
I will say I am guilty of spending too much money in my classroom. I have found that the things I thought I needed have sat in the box unused. So putting a limit on classroom spending is a fabulous idea and one I will take into consideration. When I was in school the teachers did not use the things I have in my classroom and learning took place everyday.
We are not allow to ask our students for money in my district. I have ask the students to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, and other little things. Some parents help out but others do not. Before I was a teacher I thought the school district supplied everything what a surprise. We are given $150.00 to buy everything we need which doesn't go very far now a days.
Candice Marshall
Student at Walden
Masters in Math

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