In this tough economy, funding for classroom supplies is growing increasingly scarce. Even in good times, K-12 public school teachers can easily dole out $500-$1,000 of their own money a year for supplies.
But as school budgets continue to tighten, that figure could escalate, says James Rosenberg, president and founder of Adopt-A-Classroom, which has raised $10 million for supplies for 20,000 classrooms in all 50 states during the past decade.
Rather than reaching deeper into your own pockets, here are some grassroots tips from creative educators for getting free supplies despite budget cuts, and leads to organizations that help teachers get the goods they need.
Don't Buy What's Free
Look into these strategies for obtaining free materials:
Recycling. Jennifer Volpe, a former speech pathologist at Cobble Hill High School, in Brooklyn, New York, recommends a nonprofit recycling site called Freecycle, where people from all over the world post books, CDs, electronics, and toys they're giving away. "The only catch is that you have to arrange to pick up the items," says Volpe.
Free shopping spree. Teachers at schools in which at least 60 percent of students qualify for free lunch can take part in a monthly shopping spree at resource centers such as A Gift for Teaching, in Orlando, Florida, which gets many of its new supplies donated as surplus from businesses. For teachers at schools where 70 percent of the population qualifies for free lunch, the Kids in Need Foundation has built a network of 25 free school-supply resource centers around the country. Other local associations that gather and distribute free supplies include the Teacher Resource Center of the North Bay, in Napa County, California, Schoolhouse Supplies in Portland, Oregon, and the Teacher Supply Depot in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Try an online group. Join a Yahoo Group or a Google Group in your community and post a request for the supplies you need.
Put Your Classroom Up for Adoption
Adopt-A-Classroom offers a free, safe online e-wallet account to educators who want to solicit financial support from the community. Teachers can use the money to purchase books, games, and other educational supplies through the online vendors associated with the site.
To sign up, log on to the site, register your classroom, and describe what kinds of supplies you'd like to buy. Then let parents and local businesses know that they can "adopt" your classroom for as little as $25.
Go for the Big Score
OfficeMax, in partnership with Adopt-A-Classroom, hosts the annual A Day Made Better event in October. Each year, the office superstore surprises 1,000 teachers in their classroom with $1,000 each worth of school supplies, including classroom-supply staples like scissors, glue sticks, pencils, pens, notebooks, tissues, and even a digital camera. The store also hosts in-store school supply drives that customers can contribute to.
Teachers who'd like to be considered for the next A Day Made Better should have a school principal or fellow teacher nominate them at the official site.
Raise Funds for Supplies
Neeta Garg, owner of the Kumon Math and Reading Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, wanted to help local teachers. So she organized a school-supplies drive. She sent flyers and emails to parents, and her daughter posted the event on Facebook. In addition to hundreds of donated pencils and notebooks, she collected gloves, coats, and backpacks -- all of which she donated to area public schools.
And at Wilmot Elementary School, in Deerfield, Illinois, parent-teacher organization (PTO) fundraisers pay for a lot of supplies. Teachers fill out wish lists of the classroom supplies they'd like, from pencil sharpeners to cooking utensils. The PTO organizes fundraisers throughout the year, including a Market Day, when students and their families can order food from a catalog once a month.
Tom Farber, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High School, made headlines when he asked parents and local businesses to sponsor his exams. "I knew that I had to do something," said Farber, explaining that if he gave one quiz per chapter to each of his 167 students, he'd spend more than $500 (roughly $3 a student) on photocopies alone.
So Farber began selling a small amount of space at the bottom of each exam. He charges $10 per quiz, $20 for tests, and $30 per final. Most sponsors use motivational quotes, such as this gem: "A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants trees under which he full well knows he will never sit."
In the fall semester of 2009, Farber raised more than $625 -- enough to cover a year's worth of photocopies.
Tamar Snyder is an Edutopia.org contributor in New York City.