Teachers Spend Own Money for Supplies

Bruce Hogue is always looking for ways to make teaching science more interesting.

But the money he uses for the boxes of Cheerios, Bran Flakes and Total needed for one his experiments usually comes out of his pocket.

“As a science teacher, I have an official budget, but that is usually gone by the beginning of the year,” says Hogue, who works in suburban Denver. “When I want to do a science lab, I usually pay for it all on my own.”

Hogue is one of the millions of teachers across the country who are shelling out their own hard-earned cash to pay for books, pens, pencils and other basic supplies that schools have provided in the past.

According to a new survey, teachers spent an average of $448 of their own money on instructional materials and school supplies for the 1998-99 school year.

The survey conducted last summer by the National School Supply and Equipment Association — a trade group representing the school supply industry — found that teachers pay for 77 percent of the school supplies needed in their classrooms. The rest comes from the school, parent-teacher groups and other school funds.

Spending to Learn

This doesn’t surprise teachers and their advocates.

“What other profession do you know where professionals have to use their own money to do their job properly?” says Janet Fass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers. “Do engineers, do accountants spend their own money? Why should teachers when they are far lower paid than other professionals?”

Teachers say they not only buy school supplies with their money, but many times they help out students who may not have cash for lunch or to get home.

In Philadelphia, where teachers are in intense contract negotiations with school administrators this week, one-fourth of teachers said they gave their own money to students for transportation, books and lunches, according to a survey conducted by the city’s teachers union. Furthermore, 47 percent said they lacked basic supplies such as paper, pens and pencils for their classrooms.

The contract proposal under consideration now would take away a $50 stipend that teachers get for school supplies, says Barbara Goodman, communications director for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

“We are talking about a school system that is not able to supply funding for what should be priorities — books, pens, paper,” says Goodman.

Suburbia Also Affected

And it is not just in urban neighborhoods that teachers often become charity workers.

Hogan, the suburban Denver science teacher, says he recently gave lunch money to one of his students whose disabled mother is in the process of applying to get her son in the school’s free lunch program.

“It’s the little stuff that falls through the cracks that we usually have to pick up,” said Hogue, who has been teaching science for 30 years.

But Hogue has found a creative way to solve his money problems.

He has turned to private funding for help. Groups like NASA, the U.S. Geological Society and private corporations like Lockheed-Martin have donated thousands for his classroom experiments.

Now, when other teachers panic, Hogue has good advice.

He takes out his list of where he gets his grant material and reminds them there are people willing to help out.

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