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Teachers pay out-of-pocket for students' education

Published September 28, 2012 5:56 pm

Education • They say the constant scramble for funds is necessary but frustrating.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Michelle Francis, a first-grade teacher at Bountiful's Valley View Elementary, has raised more than $23,000 over several years to fund classroom technology, projects and supplies. She does it because, otherwise, she would struggle to keep gluesticks and crayons in her class, not to mention high-tech interactive white boards, she said.

At the beginning of the school year, Francis receives about $100 for supplies from her school and about $170 in legislative funding, which is expected to stretch for nine months.

After that, it's up to her if she wants more for her class of 25 students.

She finds the resources to fund supplies and projects for the rest of the year, usually resorting to spending about $100 of her own money each month. She also lobbies for funds from grants, parents and donors.

"Unfortunately, Utah is one of the lowest funded per student in the nation, and so the money isn't there for it and I wish it was," Francis said of money for classroom supplies. "In the ideal world it would be there, but it's not."

Francis has gone online to subsidize the lack of classroom funds. She uses DonorsChoose.org, as well as social media skills, to get everything from pencils to more technological teaching devices.

"It really has made a difference to see what you're able to do through the funding opportunities," she said at an event Friday, where she was honored for her success in drumming up funds for her classroom.

Francis is not the only teacher spending out-of-pocket for school supplies.

The Maryland-based National School Supply and Equipment Association, a trade group for educational product companies, researches annually how much public school teachers pay for supplies for their own classrooms. The association's most recent retail market study estimates that U.S. teachers spend a combined $1.33 billion of their own money on school supplies for their students each year.

The survey, based on a poll of 308 K-12 teachers, found that on average teachers individually spend $356 for classroom materials. Ninety-two percent of teachers surveyed reported spending their own money on supplies, the association found.

The survey states that outside of school district funding, a teacher's main source of funding for supplies besides their own bank account is contributions from parents, who on average spend $19 each year to contribute to their child's classroom supply budget.

Earlier this week at Salt Lake City's Riley Elementary School, many teachers were presented with gift cards from Sam's Club to help them finance classroom supplies. Ninty percent of student at Riley Elementary come from low-income families and more than half are non-native English speaking students. Such schools have an even greater need for help when it comes to school supplies, said teachers at the event.

Parents at Valley View Elementary are aware that teachers struggle on behalf of their kids, and they are willing to donate to ease the burden.

"We are lucky in Utah that we usually have supportive parents that help out, and that is great," Francis said. "But in Utah the parents are not required to send things."

And when a student has a need in a classroom, according to Valley View principal Mary Memmott, the teacher often fills it — regardless of the cost.

"Most in the teaching profession, it's almost like a calling. This is something that they feel very dedicated to. They just have such a passion for what's going to happen for our future of America and what's going to happen to our children," Memmott said.

But Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, Utah Education Association president, wonders how long teachers can excel at their jobs without being provided adequate resources. Asking teachers to pay for their classroom supplies is like asking painters to make a masterpiece without giving them paint, she said.

"Right now our teachers in Utah are at a breaking point," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said. "There is such a lack of respect and lack of understanding about what our job is."

She said Utahns need to engage with lawmakers and ask what they're doing in terms of funding public education. "[The legislators] need to be held accountable by their constituents," she said.

For now, the burden continues to come out of the teacher's wallets.

"For me it's worth it to be in a job that I love so much," said Francis. "But it is really, really hard."

jmccandless@sltrib.com

Twitter: @justiola —

Teacher spending

R U.S. teachers spend a combined $1.33 billion of their own money on school supplies for their students each year.

On average teachers individually spend $356 for classroom materials.

Ninety-two percent of teachers surveyed reported spending their own money on supplies.

Source • National School Supply and Equipment Association 2011 survey