Lowcountry teachers dig into own pockets for classroom supplies
When Lowcountry students return to school next month, they'll likely find well-stocked classrooms with bright decorations, clean desktops and a fresh supply of pencils, crayons and paper.
By the numbers
2012-13 School Year
99.5 percent — Teachers who report spending their own money on school supplies and classroom materials.
$3.2 billion — amount teachers spent on educational products
$1.6 billion — amount teachers spent from their own pockets
$945 — average amount spent by teachers on school supplies, instructional materials and other supplies
$485 — Average amount spent by teachers from their own pockets on classroom supplies.
$1,000 — Amount of their own money spent by 10 percent of teachers.
25 percent — percentage of teachers who require parents to purchase classroom materials.
Source: The National School Supply and Equipment Association
Many don't consider how those things got there.
Students are often asked to supply binders, glue sticks and pencil pouches, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for teachers. They not only decorate their classrooms but also supply their own teaching tools and, in most cases, some basics.
Teachers nationally spent an average of $945 last school year on supplies and materials for their classrooms, $485 of which came out of their own pocket, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association.
“We always need notebooks and pencils, even though students bring in their own,” said Katie Blatchford, a fourth-grade math teacher at Westview Elementary in Berkeley County.
The state Department of Education gives teachers a set amount each year to offset the cost of supplies and materials. In 2013-14, it's $275, up from $250 last year.
“For the most part, we really are supported,” said Debbie Cruse, a second-grade teacher at Fort Dorchester Elementary. “In other states that I've been in in years past, that was not the case.”
Tri-county area districts, including Cruse's Dorchester 2, add to that. Berkeley County School District cut its supply budget by $1.2 million this year to $5.9 million. That means less supplies for each classroom. District officials hope the annual “Stuff the Bus” campaign to collect money and supplies will help fill the void. If not, teachers may have to dig even deeper.
“We feel, in talking to our teachers, that the $275 is very helpful, but it's really just a drop in the bucket in terms of what teachers spend,” said district spokeswoman Susan Haire.
Blatchford said she doesn't keep track of how much she spends on her classroom.
“When you go to Walmart, you buy things for yourself and for your class,” she said. “I try to keep track for tax reasons, but it's hard because I usually just pick things up here and there.”
Teachers are grateful for donations from churches, civic groups, school groups and parents.
At Academic Magnet High School, the parent organization, Partners in Education, gives each teacher $150 at the beginning of the school year.
“The money helps me tremendously,” said math teacher Gwen Hooffstetter. “I can provide supplies for special projects and labs, have rewards for high achievers and most-improved in class. Last year I bought a couple of math CDs for specific topics and some extra puzzles for my room for transitional time.”
Reimbursements and donations cover much of their basic needs, but extras still fall to the teachers.
“My classroom is my home away from home, and I want it to be a welcoming place for the kids,” Blatchford said. “I end up buying things to make it inviting and warm. I want it to be a place where kids walk in and say, 'I want to be here.'”
Cruse writes that off as part of being a teacher and a cost most are willing to bear.
“When it comes to decorating your room or doing anything extra, nobody requires that of you,” she said. “That's just what you do, like how you would decorate your home or anything else.”
They also often dig into their pockets during the year, particularly if they want to add to a lesson.
“It's usually if I have something extra planned that's above and beyond that I spend my money,” Cruse said.
“When I do a project where we're going to be using baking supplies to measure, for instance, I'll go out and buy those things,” she said. “It seems like there's always extra things like that. It's just what you do.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or facebook.com/brindge.