94% of American teachers say they spend their own money on their classrooms — and some have turned to sites like GoFundMe for help

iStock / Getty Images PlusClassroom supplies (file)
  • A survey released earlier this year showed that 94% of teachers are spending their own money on classroom supplies.
  • Among those surveyed, 7% of teachers spent more than $US1,000 on their classrooms during the 2014-2015 school year.
  • While the majority of teachers spent below $US500, INSIDER has spoke to several teachers who have spent thousands of dollars of their own money to supplement their school’s budgets.

Teachers spend an average of $US479 out of their own pocket on supplies for their own classroom each year, according to a survey from the National Center for Education Statistics released in May.

The survey showed that 94% of teachers spent money from their own pockets on their classroom supplies, with some spending thousands.

The data evaluated teachers from city, suburban, town, and rural schools, and includes both traditional public schools and charter schools.

Among those questioned, 7% of teachers said they spent more than $US1,000 on their classrooms during the 2014-2015 school year.

And while the majority of teachers spent below $US500, INSIDER has spoken to several teachers who allocated much more.

Teachers are buying carpeting and chairs for classrooms

Kathryn Zaleski, a Colorado high school teacher in her ninth year of teaching, says she spends a few hundred dollars on her classroom each year getting it ready for students.

But Zaleski started her teaching in Arizona, where she said funding is “really lacking.” Arizona faced strikes and walkouts by teachers earlier this year who protested low pay and cuts to school funding.Similar strikes also occurred in Oklahoma, where budget cuts led some schools across the state to consider a four day school week.

“I had to spend thousands of dollars my first year to get my classroom up and running. And it was a charter school, so I found that there would be a change, and then another change, and another change,” Zaleski said, referencing what she said was constant curriculum and administrative changes in the school.

Allison Lytton, a ninth-year teacher in Lewiston, Maine, said she spends one to two thousand dollars every year on her classroom and students.

She said many teachers turn to crowdsourcing sites like GoFundMe instead of paying out of pocket.

“It’s almost humiliating to go and beg for things that we should have,” Lytton told INSIDER.

She said she had seen teachers in other districts raising money for chairs because they don’t have enough in their classrooms.

Why are schools in such disrepair? School funding was hard hit by the 2008 recession. To compensate for post-recession losses, states made budget cuts and also enacted tax cuts, which led to sharp decreases in school funding. According to 2015 census data, more than half of US states provided less school funding per student than they had in 2008. And in addition to the state-level budget cuts, funding at the local level also decreased in 19 states, compounding the financial loss.

In the same time period, there’s been a marked reduction in education jobs and increase in K-12 enrollment. Since 2008, the US has lost 135,000 education jobs and gained 1.4 million new students.

Schools have taken a major hit, funding-wise. And teachers have been left to make up the difference.

Some teachers have to buy food for hungry students

It’s not just classroom supplies Lytton is spending money on each year – she’s also bought clothes and blankets for kids, and food for hungry children.

“If you have a child that comes in and they’re tired, and they’re telling you they couldn’t sleep because their heat was cut off and they were too cold, then you go and buy some blankets and send them home, because that’s what any good person would do. But that’s money that’s taking away from your family too,” Lytton, a single mother of two young boys, said.

Rhiannon Wenning, who has been an educator in Colorado for 18 years, shared similar stories with INSIDER.

She said she has paid school fees for girls on the cheerleading team she coaches, and bought lunch for students, as well as yearbooks and clothing.

She said she, too, has paid for electric bills and bought groceries for families who are going through hard times.

And Hannah Bruner, another Colorado teacher, told INSIDER there are several kids she feeds breakfast to every morning because they come to school hungry.

According to the organisation No Hungry Kid,13 million children in the United States – or one in six – live in “food insecure” homes, which mean their families regularly don’t have enough food to eat.

In 2016, 59% of food-insecure households reported taking part in the national school lunch program, SNAP, or WIC, which provides for women, infants and children.

No Hungry Kids is working to provide children with school breakfasts, summer meals and after-school meals.

In schools where 75% or more of the students were approved for free or reduced-price lunch programs in the 2014-2015 school year, 95% of teachers spent money on their classrooms, a per cent higher than the national average, according to a survey from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The National Center for Education Statistics’s data showed that teachers of elementary grade levels spend more money on classroom supplies than secondary grades.

And educators from schools that participate in free or reduced-price school lunch programs are more likely to spend on their classrooms than those that do not, according to the survey.

“That’s what we do as teachers because we’re invested in our communities and we’re invested in our students and their families,” Wenning said. “It’s very common for teachers to do that because we don’t just think about ourselves, we think about everybody.”

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