Spending Your Own Money on Supplies
Teachers are an incredibly generous bunch. As teacher and educational researcher Mark Overmeyer succinctly observes in his book When Writing Workshop Isn't Working: “The generosity of teachers never ceases to amaze me.” And veteran teacher Brian Crosby, in his book The $100,000 Teacher,notes how teachers' innate generosity often leads them to purchase supplies for their classrooms using their own hard-earned money: “In fact, it is estimated that the average teacher spends $400 annually from his own wallet, while many others spend upward of $1,000,” says Overmeyer. Therefore, knowing how incredibly generous you and most other teachers are, the crucial question you need to ask yourself is, “Should I subsidize my school district by spending my own money on classroom supplies?”
During each academic year, states spend widely differing amounts of money per pupil. During the 1999–2000 year, for example, per-pupil expenditures ranged from $10,337 per pupil in New Jersey to $4,378 per pupil in the state of Utah. The top three states in terms of per-pupil expenditures were New Jersey at $10,337; New York at $9,846; and Connecticut at $9,753.
The short answer really should be, “Heck, no!” School districts throughout the United States collect revenues, measured in hundreds of billions of dollars annually. And while you certainly must take into account these districts' equally large expenditures, the fact remains that funding for public education is substantial. For example, according to a 2002 article, “U.S. Education Spending: 1999–2000” by statistician Frank Johnson of the U.S. Department of Education, nearly $400 billion in revenues were collected for the 1999–2000 academic year by U.S. school districts in grades kindergarten through twelfth. Revenues ranged from an astounding $45 billion for the state of California down to a merely breathtaking $750 million in the state of North Dakota.
With all this money floating around, surely some of it should be expended by districts to purchase the classroom supplies your students require. It should not be necessary for you to chip in your own funds to buy basic materials such as paper, pencils, books, etc.
And yet, you've got to face the reality that sooner or later, you'll find yourself purchasing materials out of pocket — it's either that or let your children's learning suffer. Why do school districts often seem to come up short? There's no single definitive answer. Miscalculations, excessive optimism concerning anticipated revenues, and even isolated incidents of reported fraud all enter into the equation; but the bottom line is that sometimes, if your kids need it, you'll have to buy it. Don't forget to take full advantage of the small stipends offered in many states that give you a bit of cash each year to spend on classroom supplies and equipment. Also, ask your accountant about using Form 2106, “Employee Business Expenses,” to deduct certain job-related purchases from your federal income-tax return.
In the end, only you can decide if spending your own funds is ethical or necessary. Discuss the matter with other teachers, friends, and loved ones to come up with the answer that best suits your finances and your individual values.