AUSTIN (KXAN) — A trip to Target for Round Rock teacher Lauren Jones is a game of strategy.
That game? Planning for 21 third-grade students.
Jones has a list with her name on it, checking off everything from notebooks to baby wipes to pretzels for hungry kids as she weaves through the aisles with one of the store’s signature red carts.
“We understand that parents are too busy in the mornings to pack the snack,” she said as she grabbed a few bags.
KXAN investigators tagged along with Jones just before the first day of school to learn how much is on the plates of local teachers.
Jones knows what she and her students need right now but is also prepared for what they’ll need in the future.
“It’s amazing how things go missing,” she said.
When asked what she consistently runs out of in her classroom, Jones replied, “Glue sticks, definitely. It also seems like the colored pencils always go missing.”
Paying out of pocket
These purchases add up.
That’s why KXAN investigators surveyed nearly 50 elementary, middle and high school teachers in Central Texas to learn how much they spent or plan to spend out of their own pockets on classroom supplies this year.
- More than a quarter (29%) said they spent or plan to spend between $100.00 and $250.00.
- 42% spent between $250.00 and $500.00.
- Another 29% said they spent more than $500.00 on classroom supplies.
Jones is in her second year of teaching. She says in her first year, she spent around $2,000. This year she said she’ll spend less money, but it will still be more than $500.00.
“I think I might cry if I actually looked at all my receipts,” Jones said.
We also wanted to know what teachers were buying with their own money.
One Austin ISD Elementary School teacher spent $450.00 on books for a classroom library.
A Round Rock teacher spent $100.00 on a color printer, noting that she prints at home because the “in-house” printer is always broken.
The purchases go beyond what’s in the supply closet.
One of the most popular answers for what teachers were buying was flexible seating, such as wobble stools for students with ADHD.
“If not me, then who?”
Whether they felt they deserved a little more help, or whether they wanted to go above and beyond, we received a variety of interesting answers from teachers about why they spent so much of their own money on classroom supplies.
“Sometimes you spend money because it is the right thing to do—such as buying clothes for kids who are cold or a homeless student who didn’t have a dress for picture day.”Leander ISD Elementary School teacher
One Austin Elementary School teacher responded, “Kids are worth more than the government spends on them. If not me, then who?”
“Kids without school supplies feel anxiety and sometimes shame. Having their own gives them a feeling of confidence and strength.”Round Rock Middle School Teacher
A high school science teacher in Austin answered, “I want my students to have a solid foundation in lab practices so they know what they could do or could pursue if they wanted. I want my students to think critically and solve problems. We do a lot with a little — it’s actually kind of impressive.”
Where teachers are getting support
Most teachers told us they do not receive a stipend from their school district to help pay for supplies, but a few did get some money in the form of a reimbursement check from their school’s PTA.
Others sought help paying for classroom supplies through organizations like DonorsChoose.
KXAN reached out to several school districts in Central Texas to find out what kind of support they’re providing teachers for classroom supplies.
A spokesperson with Austin ISD tells us:
Austin ISD does not currently provide a district-wide direct stipend or funds to teachers for classroom materials/supplies. However, Austin ISD’s competitive salary increases demonstrate the district’s commitment to investing in our teachers and staff. In addition, the district invests directly and heavily in recurring instructional materials allotments and distributions, technology resources, online resources for classroom use, fine arts materials and equipment for campuses to support high-quality and engaged student learning.
In Austin ISD, school budgets are distributed locally to each campus to prioritize funding needs and instructional goals outside of those texts, materials, and consumable items provided by our school district. Campuses generally purchase and have methods for providing teachers access to specific standard supplies and instructional materials that are used for instruction and consumable throughout the year. For student supplies and materials not addressed in this way, Austin ISD works with a variety of local partners and agencies to provide supplies, materials, and backpacks to families through events such as Back-To-School Bash and year-long programs for families in need.
A Round Rock ISD spokesperson answered that the assistance teachers receive is largely based on where they teach:
Each campus has an activity fund that can be used for classroom supplies or campus needs. The way that this fund is used is at the discretion of each principal and amount allocations can vary based on campus and/or classroom need.
Our Community Partnership Department also works to facilitate connections between external organizations and campuses and classrooms to help facilitate, as much as possible, campus and classroom supply and volunteer needs.
The Round Rock ISD Partners in Education Foundation also offers assistance to teachers through their school supplies drive for students and their Excellence in Education Grants for campus staff. The amount for each grant awarded varies.
Externally, teachers have the opportunity to apply for grants offered by external organizations.
A Leander ISD spokesperson told us classroom supply budgets are also set at the school level:
LISD strives to support teachers in any way it can, especially when it comes to having tools for classroom instruction. The district provides financial assistance at the campus level by allocating funds based on the number of students projected to be at the school. Supply budgets are set at the campus level, and additional funding for technology (as well as weighted funds for students in bilingual, compensatory education, special education, and gifted and talented programs).
Georgetown ISD says teachers’ basic needs are supplied by schools or community partners through a number of community events. A spokesperson with the district said that most schools reimburse teachers “between $50.00 and $100.00” for supplies.
Jones tells KXAN she didn’t know how much of their own money teachers spent until she became one herself.
Now, like most other teachers we surveyed, it’s something she feels compelled to do.
“I try and provide my kids with the best learning environment possible,” she said. “So if that means spending my own money, then so be it.”