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.
Edutopia Team
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$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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Caryn Letts's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you both when you said you don't know any other profession where you need to purchase materials to get the job done well. I feel I am constantly supplying pencils, pens, and paper to my students because I want to give them the opportunity to participate in the classroom. It does get very expensive, considering I am also supporting my family.

Vanyke Fleming's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, my name is Vanyke Fleming. I am a graduate student at Walden University. I have been teaching 11th and 12th graders in South Carolina for two years. I believe that teachers spend alot of money each year on graduate supplies. We have to buy all of our supplies plus the supplies of our students. Students come to school without pencil, paper, or any other school supplies. They rely on the teacher to give them the material to help them learn. The school gives $275 a year for school supplies, but I believe this is simply not enough. I have about 200 students a year. Supplying one notebook and pencils are hard. I have to spend money out of my own pocket for prizes and other activities to enhance learning. It is really hard having a family and trying to support students at the same time. Even though I have to spend my own money, I am still happy that I can provide some for my students.

Vanyke Fleming's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have a list for my students the first day of school about things they need in my classroom, but they rarely show up with the materials. Teachers have to bend backwards to do everything possible to get a child to want to learn.

Dawnette Tyson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Good Evening,
My school only gave us a total of $28.00 to spend. So far in 2009 I have spend $900.00 of my personal money (I saved three years to do this). I purchased my own document camera, Interwrite pad, and projector to name a few. I purchased these items because I plan on teaching a while. I consider this an investment in myself, and my students.

Nobina Foley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you Ed! Teachers do what they have to for the kids. Some may think a thousand dollars is a bit much, but honestly if you add up everything you buy for the classroom and your students, well it adds up to be more than intended. I never begin the year with the intent of purchasing much. It always depends on what the school district and the families can supply the children with. This year, well it's only October and I've spent over five hundred of my personal money - this includes copy paper and transparencies. Oh well, teachers do what they need to.

Islande's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello my name is Islande and I have been teaching 7th and 8th grade science for about 6 years in Miami,Florida. As a science teacher, it's as if I have no choice but to spend money for activities in the classroom. Every other day something is needed for labs: vinegar, salt,paper cups, clear plastic cups, baking soda, rock salt, food coloring, this, that all year long. Our district did provide the $150.00 for the year but it can't do too much. The students I work with too are from low income homes and bringing in materials for labs is out of the question. To get the interest and concept across especially in science, hands on materials are needed; therefore, the money has to be spent and I have to say like so many others, "it is worth it."

Vickie Clock's picture

Our district just enacted a Fee for Personal Appliances in the classroom. A small refrigerator is $40; microwave- $20; coffee pot- $20 and an extra lamp- $15. Now, when I received this directive, I was non-plussed as you may imagine. When I let it simmer, I listed my own personal expenses for my classroom and students to improve instruction. Further, I wondered how much the average teacher spends out of pocket themselves. That is how I came to this forum. My next thought was about the countless number of unpaid overtime to grade papers, develop lesson plans, prepare exciting new ways to help children learn and so on. One year several years ago I did keep a log of the number of hours spent grading essays for my 5 Junior English classes- the final count was 10 weeks at 37 hours per week, equalling one quarter of work unpaid- this is why we have our summers "free"! Does anyone have any idea what the average unpaid overtime is for teachers in this country? I'd be curious. Teaching English is a special case I understand, but to then be assessed a fee for having a coffee pot or sm appliance of any kind or a desk lamp! Well! You can imagine the gaul. Our school board seems to be braindead or just plain oblivious to the real world of education!

Vickie Clock's picture

My district just enacted a policy to charge teachers for the use of any small appliance in their rooms, lounges, and restrooms. We can write a check or have it deducted from our paychecks next pay period. This will assure that the district stays solvent in this financial crisis saving up to 1 million dollars by cost cutting in many areas. yada yada, yada
Small refrigerators are $40; coffee makers are $20; and desk lamps are $15. All microwaves and ovens are to be removed from the lounges and rooms due to the "fire hazzard" they create. My 20 year old asked me, "How many fires have there been, Mom?"

So, as I think about being charged to use a desk lamp here in my cave of a classroom with no windows to let in natural light and not even an emergency light for those power outages that happen on a regular basis, I am astounded at the audacity of our Board and Administration to ask us to pay for simple items that make this place somewhat liveable, especially given the 100's of dollars spent out of pocket over a career of 20, 30, 40+ years in education.

Anyone care to comment on that one?

Lynne Wright's picture

Yes, isn't that a great benefit. I wish it were more. Indeed teachers spend so much money out-of-pocket, that we should be reimbursed by our schools/districts. The push is on for classrooms replete with graphic organizers, posters, and displays. These things are expensive, not to mention the cost associated with consumable classroom items.

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