December 26, 2018
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Teachers tell us how much they really spend on supplies

DonorsChoose.org asked teachers what they spent on their students during their first year in the classroom.

From art class to the science lab, teachers are spending hundreds of dollars of their own money every year to create the best learning environments for their students. Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Teachers go above and beyond to give their students every opportunity for learning. When school budgets can’t cover everything they dream of for their students, teachers reach into their own pockets to make up the difference.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently shared that public school teachers spend an average of $479 a year on their classroom—and that number rises with the economic need of a school. A whopping 94 percent of teachers spent their own money on resources for their classrooms in the 2014–2015 school year.

A Nationwide Problem

To get a pulse on the range of teacher out-of-pocket spending, we asked teachers in our community what they spent during their first year in the classroom.

“I’m in the middle of shopping now to set up my first room. I’m at $850.”
— Mr. Bryan, Connecticut

“Student teaching about $450, year one about $950, year two about $950 again, and this year I’m up to about $400. Changing grades and switching rooms costs quite a bit.”
— Mrs. Booher-Jenkins, Ohio

“My first year probably $2,000! And probably $750–$1,000 every year after that for 25 years now! I’ve always bought the extras to help my students.”
— Mrs. Leach, Rhode Island

“My first year was well over $1,000 and that was 19 years ago.”
— Ms. Fikentscher, Ohio

“My first year in this district I spent $95 setting up a Written Language classroom. In October of the same year I was moved to a makeshift classroom for 3rd grade and spent $750… paint walls, curtains, literacy games, journals, grade books, attendance books, literacy subscriptions.”
— Mrs. Blankenship, Oklahoma

By Teachers, For Teachers

As anyone who’s taught for a while knows, this isn’t a new problem.

When DonorsChoose.org founder Charles Best was teaching history in the Bronx in 2000, he would spend his lunches with fellow teachers daydreaming about the projects their students would do, the field trips they would go on, the books they would read if only they had the funding.

Charles wanted his students to read Little House on the Prairie, but with only one book for the whole class, Charles was waking up at 5 a.m. to photocopy that day’s reading. One morning at Kinko’s, he was struck by an idea—there must be people out there would want to help teachers like him, if they could see exactly where their dollars were going. With the help of some dedicated student volunteers and optimistic teachers, Charles launched DonorsChoose.org.

Nearly two decades later, teachers are still using our site to request the exact resources their students need to thrive, and donors across the country give to the individual classroom requests that most inspire them. As a nonprofit built to serve public school teachers’ needs from the start, we’re dedicated to transparency and accountability, which is why we’ve received the top rating from Charity Navigator 13 years in a row. To date, our community of generous donors, foundations, and corporate partners have helped bring more than one million classroom projects to life for 450,000 public school teachers across America.

You can help out teachers like these and more by giving to a classroom project request that inspires you. When you do, you move us closer to a nation where all students have what they need for a great education without teachers reaching into their own pockets.

See how you can support a classroom in your community.

This article first appeared on the DonorsChoose.org blog.

Katherine McLennan

DonorsChoose.org