Should teachers have to pay for classroom supplies?

Should teachers have to pay for classroom supplies?
A recent Economic Policy Institute study found teachers on average spend at least $459 out of their own pockets each year to outfit their classrooms. (File photo via Pixabay.com)

Schools and parents have long presumed that teachers will use their own money to buy classroom essentials and volunteer their time to staff after-school and weekend events.

A middle school teacher in South Carolina is challenging the expectation that teachers give their personal time and cash for the betterment of their schools and classrooms.

The lawsuit filed by teacher Shannon Burgess charges that teachers are forced to put in unpaid hours and are routinely expected to purchase items essential for them to meet their job responsibilities, such as copy paper. The attorney in the case is seeking other South Carolina teachers to join Burgess, which would turn it into a class-action lawsuit. In her lawsuit, Burgess contends teachers at her school are required to work at school concession stands at sports events. Many teaching contracts, including here in Georgia, say teachers are responsible for “other duties as assigned.”

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The problem, according to teachers, is that “other duties” can fall outside the school day. Educators are often expected to chaperone proms on a Saturday night or staff football games on Friday nights. Teachers raise a good question: How many other employees are expected to routinely volunteer time on weekends and evenings?

The lawsuit states: “It has long been a pattern of practice throughout this nation and the state of South Carolina that school districts … have unconscionably and impermissibly shifted operating costs of the classroom directly on the financial backs of our teachers.”

A recent Economic Policy Institute study found teachers on average spend at least $459 out of their own pockets each year to outfit their classrooms. It found Georgia teachers spend slightly less, $428. Teachers in California have the highest annual average, $664 a year. Only 4.9% of teachers don’t spend any of their own money on school supplies.

The recent EPI findings align with a federal Department of Education survey released last year that showed 94% of public school teachers said they paid for school supplies out of their own pockets. On average, teachers spent $479 , but 7% said their school shopping lists topped a thousand dollars, according to data culled from the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey.

The practice of teachers buying school supplies was more common in low-income schools, and those teachers shelled out more. Teachers in schools where three out of four students qualified for free and reduced-price lunches invested $554 in their classrooms, compared to $434 at affluent schools with few low-income students.

Elementary teachers were the biggest spenders, averaging $526 on their kids and classrooms. While parents are likely grateful that teachers stock extra pencils for their kids and volunteer at school carnivals, their gratitude may not be sufficient reward for the time and money that teachers sacrifice.

Many parents have come to expect their young children will come home from school in the next two weeks with a holiday craft, a handmade reindeer ornament for the tree or a winter-themed photo frame for Nana. What they don’t realize is that some teachers are paying for the pipe cleaners, glitter and buttons for those special projects.