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Report: Almost All Teachers Foot the Bill for School Supplies

It’s become a familiar scene over the past few months.

Schools close, as teachers in red shirts descend on the state capital holding signs and leading chants for better pay and more funding for their local schools.

From West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona, educators are organizing in calls for better treatment, stronger compensation, and restored benefits.

On Wednesday, North Carolina became the latest center of the teacher walkout movement, as nearly 20,000 teachers attended demonstrations in the state capital of Raleigh, organized under the hashtag #RedforEd.

Much like previous demonstrations, teachers are calling for more than fatter paychecks. They also want “a better environment for public education,” as elementary school teacher Tracey Brumble tells the AP.

This includes updated resources like textbooks and classroom supplies.

Faced with dwindling budgets,  schools throughout the country have been forced to cut back on supplies and updates. As a result, many teachers find themselves footing the bill for basic classroom necessities.     

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A new study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sheds new light on just how many teachers are paying out of pocket for classroom supplies–and how much they’re paying.

The data comes from the Teacher Questionnaire section of NCES’s 2015-2016 National Teacher and Principal Survey.

Here are three key takeaways:

1. Nearly all teachers spent their own money on classroom supplies

Ninety-four percent of surveyed teachers spent money on classroom supplies during the 2014-2015 school year–and were not reimbursed. Teachers in traditional public schools paid out-of-pocket for supplies at a higher rate (94 percent) than teachers at public charters (88 percent).

The type of community in which teachers served had nearly no effect on the percentage of teachers who paid for supplies: communities classified as city, suburban, or rural saw 94 percent of teachers pay for supplies; communities classified as towns saw 93 percent do the same.

2. The average teacher spent almost $500 on supplies

The average teacher who paid for classroom supplies out-of-pocket paid $479, according to the NCES survey. Teachers at city schools spent more ($526 on average) than teachers from suburban ($468), town ($445), or rural ($442) schools. Elementary teachers spent more than secondary teachers on supplies–an average of $526 for elementary versus $430 for secondary.

3. Teachers serving poorer communities paid more for supplies

Predictably–and unfortunately–teachers in districts serving disadvantaged students often paid more for school supplies than those in wealthier districts. Teachers who worked at districts with 75 percent or more of their students on free or reduced-price lunch programs spent an average of $554 for supplies. This is significantly more than the $434 spent by teachers at schools with less than 34 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunch. Nearly 10 percent of teachers at schools where 75 percent or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch spent more than $1,000 out of pocket on supplies.

Numbers like these clearly illustrate the financial challenges that schools and teachers are facing–and demonstrate that teacher concerns extend beyond salary requirements. The most recent walkout in North Carolina is illustrative of teachers’ frustrations. Now, it’s up to states and school districts to find new ways to relieve the tension.

How is your school or district engaging teachers about funding and resource issues? Tell us in the comments.