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Out-of-Pocket Expense for Teachers Are a Given in Today’s Schools

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January 23, 2016

The teaching profession is one that demands dedication, commitment, and sacrifice.  Indeed, most teachers, whether in a public or private school setting, often go beyond the “call of duty”, motivated by their desire to create a stimulating learning environment and to ensure their students’ success. 

Working long hours outside the regular school day preparing special projects, decorating their classroom, and spending one-on-one time with a student to help them master a subject are just a few ways in which teachers frequently apply themselves beyond their fundamental responsibilities.

Unfortunately, fiscal realities challenging both our California public and private school communities are compelling K-12 teachers to make an additional sacrifice for their students. 

Most teachers are using their own personal funds to pay for education resources and materials.  By digging deep into their own pockets, teachers are funding vital education resources that are unaffordable for many, yet essential to those children entrusted to their care.                

A recent survey on teachers’ out-of-pocket spending behavior conducted by SheerID (a teacher verification provider) and Agile Education Marketing notes that teacher spending has been increasing every year.  The study also found that in the 2013-2014 school year, teachers in the U.S.  spent an average of $513 of their own money to pay for classroom supplies, instructional materials, books for their classrooms, and professional development.  This is six percent more than what teachers spent in the previous school year.  If a teacher decided to forego paying these out-of-pocket costs, many activities and materials would be unavailable to their students thus diminishing the quality of their educational experience. 

For new teachers, in particular, their out-of-pocket expenses can be quite sizeable especially in relation to their salary, which is at the lowest end of the pay scale.  For instance, the average salary for new teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District is in the mid $40,000 range. 

Yet, these new teachers willingly incur these costs in their endeavor to create an engaging curriculum and gather all the crucial resources and materials to implement it.  This additional financial expense imposes an even greater hardship on those new teachers who may still be repaying college loans and may be teaching in California’s most challenging districts and schools with high concentrations of students coming from families who live in poverty.

Cheryl Cowan and Janell Thomas are in their second year of co-teaching the first grade class at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Sacramento.  At the beginning of the school year, each class is given an allotted share of funds for supplies and materials along with each family’s required contribution of supplies.  Nevertheless, Mrs. Cowan and Mrs. Thomas find that there are still additional resources and materials that they could use to create an optimal learning environment.  They estimate that, so far this year, they have jointly spent more than $1,000 of their own money on supplemental curriculum, reward incentives, and field trips.  

Mrs. Cowan explains, “There are so many resources that we would like to provide to our students, resources that are the most up-to-date or that allow us to provide a more individualized curriculum that is tailored to each student’s needs.” 

The impact of these expenses on their pocketbooks is not insignificant, but Mrs. Cowan and Mrs. Thomas gladly bear these costs in return for the benefits their students receive from it. 

Mrs. Thomas expresses a sentiment shared by many dedicated teachers, “We want to do all that we can to create an engaging, interesting, and fun classroom experience for our students that will instill a love for learning that will endure not only throughout their years of education but throughout their entire life.”