Teachers often pull from own pockets for classroom supplies

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September 23rd, 2014

Lincoln, NE – On a Friday afternoon at Grand Island’s Seedling Mile Elementary school, Meghan Roeser’s third grade classroom was buzzing.

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Some students listened to audio books or aligned letter magnets into simple words on the white board, while others drew or read to fellow classmates. Roeser, meanwhile, read quietly to a small group of attentive students at a corner table.

Students were participating in an elementary education activity called “The Daily Five.”  Between the crayons, construction paper, and collection of children’s books, it’s a learning activity that’s required no shortage of supplies.

“I like to get kids active in their learning. So, just getting going to different centers and working independently,” Roeser said. “It just takes a lot of stuff to keep them engaged and busy.”

While the majority of materials are supplied by the school, she’s still found herself reaching into her own pockets at times. But Roeser said it comes with the territory.

“I’m constantly buying things for the classroom. Our PTA gives us a certain amount of money and the school district gives us a certain amount of money, but I’m always going to garage sales and Dollar Tree and making my own things. It’s just constantly when I’m at the store, I’m picking up little different things,” Roeser said.

A student in Meghan Roeser's third grade class at Seedling Mile Elementary school in Grand Island participates in one of several "Daily Five" learning activities. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

A student in Meghan Roeser’s third grade class at Seedling Mile Elementary school in Grand Island participates in one of several “Daily Five” learning activities. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

For teachers like Roeser, it’s been those little things that start to add up. According to a recent study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association, teachers spent $3.2 billion on classroom tools last school year, only half of which was funded for them. Now Roeser’s been hoping to build on the interactive materials in her classroom by incorporating more technology in the mix. There’s just one problem.

“Those materials are usually really expensive,” Roeser said.

Nancy Fulton is a former public school teacher and current president of the Nebraska State Education Association. The NSEA is a union representing 28,000 educators across Nebraska. She said it’s common to find teachers paying for everything from classroom decorations to actual textbooks. In her case, it even went as far as clothing.

“A student would come (in) and they wouldn’t have the ruler or the box of crayons. That would be up here in their desk, I would buy that for them. I hit garage sales a lot or sales at different stores around because I’d always (want to) have socks, sweatshirts, light jackets- in case when the weather turned cold and they weren’t dressed appropriately. I didn’t expect that to come back to me,” Fulton said.

And often times, it doesn’t. School districts across Nebraska have recognized the issue, and several have made attempts to help teachers. However, according to a Nebraska Department of Education spokesperson, it’s difficult to get a collective idea of how each of the state’s 253 school districts are handling the problem. Each district’s budget and policies can vary substantially. Some districts like Lincoln Public Schools or Cody-Kilgore Unified have offered a small pool for teachers to pull from for additional supplies, while others have relied more on secondary parties like donations from PTA’s, local businesses, community churches, or classroom volunteers.

“They will do the same thing. They see a child in need; they’ll bring in a pair of jeans, a book for that child, or a box of crayons. (It) just comes,” Fulton said.

It’s a national issue that has been on the radar for lawmakers for some time. In 2002, a federal law known as the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act was designed, in part, to offer a $250 tax credit to K-12 educators. The goal was to help offset education-related expenses. Although the tax deduction was originally set to expire in 2003, it was renewed, yearly, over the course of the next 10 years. However, it expired last year.

Now members from the NSEA’s parent organization, the National Education Association in Washington D.C., have been in the midst of lobbying congress for a re-extension of the tax credit. One proposed bill, sponsored by Missouri congressman Sam Graves, has aimed to re-establish the $250 tax credit. Another bill, expected to be introduced this week by congressmen Dave Reichert of Washington and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, would increase the total amount to $500.

Mary Kusler, Director of Government Relations for the NEA, said the latter bill would be in better keeping with surveyed teacher expenses.

“The national average in 2013 was $485. Of that, close to $150 went to out-of-pocket expenses toward school supplies, almost $200 went to instructional material, and around $140 was spent on other classroom supplies. So, we actually know that that $500 tax deduction is closer to the actual real cost that educators are facing,” Kusler said.

In the meantime, many teachers have begun to turn to another means for classroom funding: The Internet. Education donation sites like Donorschoose.com have allowed public educators to fill out an online request form seeking funding for specific classroom items. It’s a new option for Roeser, but one she’s optimistic will help her to find the funding to add technology to her classroom’s “Daily 5” activities. For now, though, it remains more traditional reading, writing, and listening activities.

 

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