Why Are Teachers Spending So Much on Supplies?

Class is back in session for the 2016-2017 school year, and it’s not the supply fairy who’s providing students with classroom materials they need to learn. The back-to-school shopping season is the second largest U.S. holiday when it comes to spending, often it is the K-12 teachers who are doing the shopping.

An AdoptAClassroom.org study found that 91 percent of teachers purchase supplies for their classroom and students, spending an average of $600 out of their own pocket. This adds up to more than $1.5 billion dollars each year. This study, as well as a similar survey conducted by Communities in Schools, shows that over 90 percent of teachers have low-income students whose parents are unable to afford the basic school supplies. When students come to class missing materials, it’s the teachers who fill the gap.


Mark Westpfahl teaches History at Capitol Hill Magnet School in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Each year, he spends upwards of $500 out of his own pocket on classroom supplies. Individually, basic school materials may not seem expensive, but Mark understands that these costs add up quickly.

“A lot of people I know will say, ‘It’s just a notebook, it’s just a few dollars,’ but what if you have a family with five kids,” said Mark. “The costs are very real to a lot of the families in our district and that’s why I want to go above and beyond to get supplies if I can.”

Teachers and parents both spend big to provide needed supplies. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, U.S. households spent an average of $674 on back-to-school supplies in 2016. Spending this much on school materials is unrealistic for many families, yet it’s still not always enough to supply students for the whole school year. The combined costs of school supplies and extracurricular activity fees for students this year is $659 in elementary school, $957 in middle school, and $1,498 in high school.

From 2007 to 2016, the cost of supplies and extracurricular activity fees has increased by 88 percent for elementary school, 81 percent for middle school, and 68 percent for high school. When parents can’t afford to purchase all of the costly supplies their children need, teachers step in to help.

As the cost of supplies students need for the year are increasing, school budgets are decreasing. When the 2007-2009 recession hit the United States, funding to K-12 schools was reduced, and districts are still recovering from the impact. During the 2013-2014 school year, 35 states provided less funding per student than they did before the recession began.

When budget cuts occur, teachers become responsible for self-funding their classroom. Danielle Blumhoefer teaches special education, and at Maple Lake Elementary in Minnesota, her classroom budget was nonexistent.

“I don’t have a classroom budget,” said Danielle. “On average, I spend well over $2,000 a year on my classroom just buying these basic supplies that I need. I don’t want my kids to have to worry about not having a pencil or paper.”

Teachers like Mark and Danielle are in the classroom everyday, and they’re the ones who notice when students are missing supplies. When classroom spending becomes too much for parents or school districts to afford, it’s teachers that fill the supply gap to ensure the success of their students.

Teachers shouldn’t have to tackle this huge problem alone. Let’s help the amazing teachers in each of our communities by getting them the funds they need to provide for their students.

Search for a classroom here to find and donate to a teacher in need of supplies.

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