When Teachers Cover the Costs

by On September 16, 2013 in Childrens Books, General


“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.”?– Franklin D. Roosevelt


classroom morguefile

Image credit: jdurham, morguefile.com http://mrg.bzlek6041

For U.S. public school teachers, the central finding from a recent national study of teacher expenditures should come as no surprise:

Teachers are spending a lot of money out-of-pocket to run their classrooms.

Media summaries of the recently released 2013 National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) Retail Market Awareness Study offer the highlights:

  • About half of the amount of the $3.2 billion spent by public school teachers on classroom educational products (instructional supplies and other school supplies) was covered by their own funds (approximately $1.6 billion)
  • 99% of all public school teachers surveyed reported spending some money out of pocket; the national average was $485
  • 10% of surveyed teachers spent $1K or more out of pocket, double the percentage recorded in the 2010 NSSEA study

The NSSEA’s nationwide study (full report available for a cost here) was based on responses from 400 elementary, middle and high school teachers.

As I read these findings, I thought about the year I just spent volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class at a local public school.

It is a school that, by most standards, is a success story. Student scores are high. The principal, teachers and staff are happy, dedicated veterans. Parents and kids love the school. ?It is also part of a district with an active, successful fundraising foundation. As such, the school is able to offer those “extra” programs that have been slashed (or never existed) at many public schools: computer education, art-in-action, science and music.

Having an "art in action" school program is a privilege

Having dedicated “art in action” programs is a privilege not enjoyed at all schools.
Photo credit: Diana Dull Akers.

And yet, even in this comfortable, perhaps privileged public school setting, it still happens. The teachers make purchases to supplement school purchases all the time. I watched my daughter’s teacher regularly use her own equipment (laptop, camera), make store runs for art and curricular projects, stock baskets of classroom books, and provide supplies for special events, gifts and mementos.

It hit me: If teachers pay their own funds for some materials at this school, what about schools where resources are much more limited?

What can we do – as parents, and as voting citizens – to ensure that all teachers have the resources they need to do their job, without having to dig in their own pockets?

As a parent, I’m excited to see that efforts are underway at Bookboard to explore an interesting angle on this question. A teacher pilot study is happening this fall to learn more about how access to e-books can contribute to curricular goals, support classrooms, and strengthen teacher/parent/student partnerships in ways that bring value to all.



Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.

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