Teachers Have To Spend Too Much Money On Supplies For Their Classrooms

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Christopher Furlong / Staff/GettyImages

I know what brand of pen the high school students use: your basic Bic, the blue ones that come in packs of fifty. I know because I buy them about three times a year.

“I’m running low on pens, honey,” my husband will mention, and I’ll know that the next time I hit Target, I have to buy pens for my husband’s high school English classroom. It’s a writing classroom, and he wants them to be comfortable writing, so several times a year, giant stocks of pens and pencils it is.

Then there’s the paper. The district gives each teacher a certain allotment of copies. My husband, Chris, uses his to print things out for his students on the giant-ass laser printer in his classroom. He runs out of his copy allotment midway through the semester, despite all attempts to be frugal.

Then there are runs to Office Depot for reams of paper, which are not cheap. We probably buy two per semester.

Then the aforementioned giant-ass laser printer runs out of ink, and Amazon packages arrive at my door. They contain bizarre-looking mechanical implements, long and skinny. “That’s my ink cartridge,” my husband says. “I’m running low and had to Prime it.”

My family is not alone. Right now, teachers can claim up to $250 in classroom supplies as a deduction on their taxes. But a recent Scholastic report on school funding priorities found teachers dropped $530 of their own money last year, “with teachers in high poverty schools spending nearly 40% more.” And while a 2013 study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found most teachers spending around $500 — about consistent with the Scholastic report — they also discovered that 10% of teachers were dropping more than $1,000 out of pocket per academic year.

These numbers are clearly above and beyond the paltry $250 we can claim on our taxes. In their attempt to bludgeon the new tax bill into something that could be crammed through through both houses of Congress, Republicans preserved the same old $250 tax deduction for teachers, taking the middle road between the Senate’s proposed $500 deduction and the House’s elimination of the deduction. And remember: the tax deduction only results in a nominal reduction of taxes, not a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement.

This paltry deduction works for people like my mom, who teaches in a mostly upper-middle-class Catholic school and has been for decades. She is armed with an arsenal of decorations and teaching supplies, plus, I suspect, unlimited copy access. In her school, the lack of a pen means you forgot yours, not that you can’t buy one. She might spend a little extra, but nothing that will break the bank. But she’s one of the few.

We pay, my husband estimated, several hundred dollars in school supplies every year. This includes everything from bookshelves to paper to books to pens to tissues to food for holiday parties. It also includes food for for kids who can’t afford it. He keeps granola bars and pre-made sandwiches in his fridge, because it’s a necessity. We wouldn’t have it any other way, but it adds up.

It’s a sad reality, folks, but we need to confront it. Teachers may be the only people ready — or able — to step up for some kids. And because teachers love their kids, they step up. It’s an ugly reality in America, but it’s a reality nonetheless. NPR asked teachers how much they spent in their classrooms every year, and their answers were telling, to say the least.

Yikes. And she didn’t even mention poverty.

Here’s someone my family can relate to:

And this lady’s just running down the basics here:

Basically, we agree with this woman, who sums it up perfectly:

Can I get an Amen?

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