Maryland teachers dealing with higher out-of-pocket expenses

When Erin Jackson is stocking up on classroom supplies, there’s no such thing as one stop shopping.

The Perry Hall Middle School teacher hits all of the big box stores—Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, Staples—in her quest to find the best deals on classroom supplies for her students.

Jackson, who will begin her 15th year of teaching in August, estimates she spends about $300 to $500 every year on pencils, pens, notebooks and other supplies students might need.

This is nothing new for her. When Jackson taught elementary school, she sometimes put book bags together for needier students.

“I’m not going to punish a kid or make them feel bad because they don’t have supplies,” Jackson said.

In Focus |  A one-time Harford County teacher talks about it became too expensive to stay with the school system. Thursday at 6 p.m.

Jackson is not alone. A study last year by The National School Supply and Equipment Association found more than 99.5 percent of teachers use their own money to buy classroom supplies. They spend an average of $485 each year.

The Horace Mann Educator Advisory Panel also surveyed teachers last year, and found 30 percent of teachers spend between $201 and $400 on supplies every year. Twenty-one percent spend between $101 and $200. 

Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association and a former middle school science teacher, said she used to buy props and treats for her students to use during hands-on lessons.

“I’ve heard teachers are using their own money to buy copy paper, because that’s not in the budget anymore,” Weller said.

When Jackson was first teaching, schools would give teachers a $50 allowance for classroom supplies.

“But I don’t think anyone does that anymore,” she said.

Lauren Straub, a middle school teacher in Anne Arundel County, spends between $500 and $600 every summer on classroom supplies, including pencils, paper, border for bulletin boards and other miscellaneous materials. Straub, a language arts teacher, also buys 20 to 30 books a year for her classroom library.  

During the school year, she spends another $300 to $400. Straub has second part-time job at a restaurant, which helps her cover the cost of these supplies and her other expenses.

Anne Arundel County gives its teachers each $100 at the beginning of the school year for supplies, which helps, Straub said.

“I know the budget is tight,” Straub said.

The MSEA is pushing for an update of the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act, also known as the Thornton Plan. Passed in 2002, it established landmark levels of funding for Maryland public schools.

Weller is hopeful the Maryland General Assembly will consider an update of the law next year, which might help with school supply shortages.

“I don’t know that a lot of teachers are struggling—some might be struggling a little more than others,” Weller said.

But teachers are passionate about their jobs, and they will buy supplies, Weller said.

Jackson, who has two children, ages 10 and 7, said she won’t spend so much money on supplies that it encroaches on her family’s budget.

“My biological children come first,” she said. “Then I take care of my other children.”

She said there is a common misconception that teachers have everything given to them.

“A lot of the things students have in their classrooms is because of that teacher,” Jackson said. “I do it because I want to.”

That’s how most teachers feel, said Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

“I don’t want to say it’s not a concern, but a lot of times teachers do it because it’s in the best interest of the kids,” Benfer said.

Before taking over the role of TAAAC president, Benfer taught elementary school and said he spent $200 or $300 a year on supplies that ranged from pencils and paper and bookmarks to classroom decorations. Other incentives for students—such as classroom pizza parties—usually came out of his pocket.

“Did I wish I could get some help? Sure,” Benfer said. “But I waited tables for that.”


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