Yes, Teachers Are Spending Money On Their Own Classrooms
Like the cost of a romantic date at Valentine's Day or the price of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the amount of money that teachers spend on their own classroom has become a reliable seasonal story. This year the word is that on average teachers spend, depending on your source, somewhere between $400 and $500. But that's not the whole story. The Economic Policy Institute has crunched the numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics, including a breakdown by states. The state averages vary (from $664 in California to $327 in North Dakota), though EPI is quick to note that the range says more about variations in state funding and school conditions than about the relative generosity of teachers in different states.
EPI uses relatively old data (2011-2012) to create its picture. The National Teacher and Principal Survey provides data from 2015-2016. A more current look comes from the sixth annual survey of teachers released today by SheerID and Agile Education Marketing. The most notable finding in their survey is not the amount teachers spent, but the sheer number of teachers who spent it--the survey shows that 99% of teachers spent their own money for school-related-purposes. And while the beginning of the school year seems to be prime time for these stories, the survey also notes that teachers do their spending throughout the year. The SheerID/Agile Education Marketing folks want to make a practical business point--there's a huge market out there, composed of teachers looking for bargains because they are spending for professional purposes with their own private cash, and smart businesses are tapping that market (and they're not just buying student supplies, but materials to make their classroom a more welcoming place, too). Many of the stories about teacher spending aim to be more warm and fuzzy. This year, there's been extra focus on #ClearTheLists, a hashtag started by a Texas teacher to help connect contributors with teachers who have their own classroom wish lists. That's over and above old standards like DonorsChoose.org and AdoptAClassroom.org that give teachers a chance to be helped by some cyber-philanthropist. "How To Help Teacher" stories turn up in places like the feel-good "Better" tab at NBC. These stories feed the narrative of heroic teachers making sacrifices for the good of their students. But like tales of successful GoFundMe health care campaigns, they should raise the question of why such stories are necessary in the first place. Surgeons do not crowdsource for scalpels or pay for clean hospital linens out of their own pockets. Lawyers are not expected to bring their own tables and chairs to the courtroom. Why are teachers paying their own money to provide the workspace and materials that their students need? Such charity and personal spending can have detrimental long term effects as well. This year's charitable gift can become next year's "Great! We don't have to put that item in the budget ever again." When teachers take a voluntary pay cut to make up for the underfunding of their school, there's less motivation for leaders to fix the funding problem. "Most teachers are spending a bunch of their own money on their classroom" is not good news; it's not really even news at all. Let's work for a back-to-school season in which it is no longer true.