Teachers paying more for kids' school supplies

As state and local governments cut education budgets and voters kill referendums, the folks running classrooms are stocking them, too.

By Jason Notte Aug 20, 2013 7:19AM
Mother helping son with homework © KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesParents may be holding off on back-to-school shopping this year, but their kids' teachers don't have that option.

As NBC News discovered, increased school district cutbacks across the country are forcing teachers to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies for students that are usually covered by the schools themselves. According to a recent survey conducted by insurance firm Horace Mann, which focuses on products for teachers, 53% of teachers said their budgets for classroom supplies have been cut.

General items, including paper and pens, top the list of materials not covered sufficiently by current budgets. That's followed by math and science tools, then reading material. According to the survey, 26% of the 814 teachers participating spent $400 of their own money on supplies last year -- a 3% increase from 2011.

Only about 9% of K-12 education funding comes from the federal government, which leaves school budgets in the hands of state and local agencies. In many cases, it's left to voters to determine funding through referendum items.

Last November, California voters approved Proposition 30 to increase taxes and shift more funding toward education. In June, California's legislature passed Gov. Jerry Brown's budget calling for a $38 billion increase in education spending for grades K through 12. Florida, Texas and North Dakota, however, have implemented state education cuts and are determined to keep them in place.

In North Carolina, those cuts have been particularly acute.

"We're letting our teachers know how rough the situation is," said Eric Moore, a fiscal accountant at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, told CNBC.com. "We've only got about 35% of our past budgets for supplies this year. After the Great Recession, decisions were made to cut supply funding instead of teaching positions, and we're still facing that lack of funding."

That's forcing an increasing numbers of teachers to go online and seek donations for items including pens, paper or computers. While groups like cut-rate supply company RAFT help that cause, charity sites including DonorsChoose.org assist teachers in paying for bigger items including field trips and science fairs.

"We've had a 30% year growth from last year in the number of requests from teachers," Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose.org, told CNBC.

If skinflint taxpayers don't want to pay to educate their kids or, at the very least, improve their school district and local property values, they shouldn't be surprised when their kids' schools look like the charity wards they've become.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 20, 2013 8:13AM

My wife is a teacher and we spend a load on kid's supplies.  It is amazing how little some of these parents supply their children. 


Yes, the state could be a little better funded, but pens, paper, markers...  those are mom and dad's responsibility.  OF course, we are not going to let the kids suffer for their parents lack of attention.  I think some parents anticipate that though and send their children to school completely unrepaired.

Aug 20, 2013 8:14AM
I remember when I was a kid - we had about 8 things on our school supply list.  Now there's pages worth of stuff parents are supposed to get, much of it for the classroom as a whole.  Once again, the responsible parents will pay more than their share, to make up for the slack-a$$ parents, who won't contribute much, if anything.

Too much of the school budgets are being used for administration.  For hundreds of years, our children were educated quite well without a bunch of assistant superintendents or vice-principals or curriculum coordinators.  Now, we have all these added administrators and gadgets and special programs for every possible behavioral "disability" known to man. Schools are becoming "campusus" with multiple buildings and "student lounges" and other amenities.  And yet, somehow, our kids are dumber than ever.

Aug 20, 2013 2:33PM
Yes, my wife did this many times over her 35 year career.  And, she still saved enough to pay for her health insurance, which she is now doing since retiring this past year.  We planned for it and sacrificed, and never did feel that a cash strapped state (yes, one run by democrats spending and wasting money) should have to pay for her health insurance.  Some school districts waste money on administrators salaries etc., and also have to meet basic costs of providing education, in many cases to illegal immigrants who didn't pay into the system and cost more per student due to bi-lingual mandates.  They budget for certain things, and if teachers want something special in their classroom, they buy it themselves.  If big government would quit wasting money, and giving it away like the billions for African power, there would be plenty of money to compensate teachers for their supplies.   
Nov 26, 2013 10:59AM
My wife, as a teacher, furnished pencils, paper, and other materials for students in all the years she taught. As the parish school board would cut back funding for materials such as computer paper and ink teachers were expected to step up and fill the void. All the time, while saving money at the expense of teachers, members were able to give themselves hefty pay raises (some of these raises were equivalent to having a second job) and hire unqualified personnel to fill vacant positions at the parish school board at a starting salary of twice what a teacher makes. You think? Superintendent of Lafayette Parish School Board, Dr. Cooper, recently hired an individual for the position of Superintendent of Transportation at a starting salary of $78,000 per year. Although the individual had experience he did not even possess a GED. Now go into your classrooms and tell kids how important it is to get a good education when our school board, its' members, and the local Chamber of Commerce supports such actions. 
Aug 20, 2013 1:19PM
Here in Florida, our teaparty governor, Tricky Ricky, cut education spending in an effort to privative the school system. He wants to do away with public schools all together. He recently tried to put back a small amount of funding, due to the fact that he is up for reelection. It is shameful that teachers, who are poorly paid, are expected to dip into their own pockets to pay for supplies!
Aug 20, 2013 8:06AM

Baby boomers have raped the economy and now won't vote to support schools--"I've raised MY children." People that vote not to support education but will support wars. WTF??

Education should be everyone's top priority. Our entire future is dependent upon it.

Nov 26, 2013 12:28PM
My wife is a teacher and the school system has adopted a "new" curriculum and they are demanding the teachers use it or lose their jobs BUT they are not providing the teachers with the physical resources to implement the program.  Almost every week my wife has to shop for teaching materials for her classroom just to be able to present the concepts to her students.
Nov 26, 2013 8:20PM

My wife and I, both public school teachers, easily spend $25-$40 a week on pens, paper, glue, etc. for our students.  It's a vicious circle.  If we don't buy it, the kids have an excuse to not work.  If you buy it, kids just assume you will always provide.  Parenting in this country has gone downhill so drastically.  Kids are sent to school hungry, poorly clothed, unwashed, yet have $300 cell phones and sneakers.   The supply lists are not much longer than they were 40 years ago when I started school, just more detailed and specific.  Regardless of opinion on what parents are asked to buy, it is the simple necessities which students have always needed that are not being brought in... paper and pen. 

Nov 26, 2013 4:41PM
I am a middle school teacher in a pretty rough area. I also pay for food out of my pocket for students who show up to school hungry. I have feminine products, deodorant, and toothpaste in my storage shelves as well. We recently added another worthless administrator to our school for well over six figures, yet we can't get reimbursed for supplies.  We have 3 administrators (for middle through high school) and numerous "counselors",  yet if you ask a child who these people are, they have no clue. Every month I buy pencils and paper for students because parents will not buy it, yet they drive up in SUVs and cars much fancier than mine.
These are some of the reasons I am looking into leaving education.  It makes me sad because I love the kids and love the subject I teach (history).  At some point, however, I need to take into account that I am making very little for all the work and money I put into my career.
Nov 26, 2013 12:11PM
Back when I went to school my parents had to pay for all school supplies that I needed. The only supplies that the school provided were text books. We were poorer dirt, but we manage to get along. I was not able to go to high-school after my dad passed away so I dropped out of school in the 8th grade. After retiring from my job after working 35 yrs I went to collage and now I have 3 degrees n a masters all paid without gov't help.  What I don't understand now why parents expect the school to furnish everything from pencils to paper for their kids. I am now in my 70;s and am still working because my dad taught me to have pride in myself n pay for what I want. we have never had any gov;t help n don;t want it. 
That is the problem with this country now every one is entitled. I like what President Kennedy said, "Don't ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Aug 20, 2013 11:59AM

This is one topic that makes my blood boil. My good old dark RED state of Kansas has been cutting education funding consistently for at least the last 20 years. The lack of funding extends into the student debt issue also. I graduated college in 1979 for a total cost for the 4 year degree of around $6000 from me. A large part of my cost I didn't have to pay came from the GI Bill and from my companys' tuition aid program. However, at that time about 78% of the colleges' operating budget was covered from state subsidies. I checked last night and that subsidy is down to around 8% at the college I checked. It varies from college to college. The states funding for K-12 has also dipped below what is called for in the state constitution and the State Supreme Court has order the state legislature to increase the appropriation. Our republican State Legislatures solution is to try to create a law against having the state supreme court have any say whatsoever in school funding.

As a side note, last I saw, the retirement fund for state employees is sitting at about 40% funding so the governor, Mr. Sam Brownbeck is on a huge campaign to eliminate the state income tax. While I'm not crazy about taxes in any way shape or form, I recognize this as an effective political move aimed at the ulta conservative/tea partiers that have this entire state in their pocket.

Nov 26, 2013 8:47PM

Seems as though the only time a parent is aware of the kids is when (1) if they are being bullied (2) they get to much homework (3) they get notes home from the teacher for behavior problems.  My dad was a teacher in high school.  He not only spent many hours after school to help with school work or he was to go-to teacher when a problem at home was bothering a student.  He did all this with no additional compensation, not that he would have asked for it.  There are many teachers today who have the same ethic which is admirable but does not help put food on their tables or pay the rent.

This is not to say that all parents fit into this category.  Give up a pack or two of cigarettes or a case of beer folks.  These children are your prime concern and it is your responsibility to see that they are supplied with the necessary needs for school-not the teacher!!!!!

Aug 20, 2013 2:44PM
I wish I could do more myself for my children. When you state that parents are slack-a$$ you might be one of the fortunate people with a current job, as for myself I've been laid off twice in 2 years and my wife's contract might be done at the end of the month. We currently pay nearly $6,000 yearly in property taxes along with a mortgage and so forth. I used to be quite generous with my 3 daughters and 4 grandchildren along with some of their friends and charity. My daughter recently shopped at the goodwill store for her clothing, can you imagine how that may feel when you have always been there financially, probably not or you wouldn't make such comments.
Nov 26, 2013 10:30PM
When I retired in 1997, I would spend about $400 a year on extra things for school e.g. rewards for the kids, special materials for instruction. extra pencils, glue, markers for those who ran out, games  etc.   I did ask them to resupply and sometimes they did.   Now, I volunteer and I hear that the teachers I help are buying basic supplies like copy paper and folders because their budget is smaller.
Nov 26, 2013 3:03PM
In Washington State a Lottery was voted in with funds going to education.  Our school system is in worse shape now than it was then.  This is my opinion from what I read.  Yes, it is probably helping to pay for new schools/maintenance and scholarships but not all students qualify to get help with the scholarships.  To my simple thinking I felt that the help of more money would go into the classrooms and hiring of more teachers.  Looks like I "think" wrong.  Grammar should be stressed more.  When I hear some people speak it is as though they have never learned the proper use of "I", "we" and "am" and "are", etc. 
We have zero dollars supplied by the district so all teachers must provide their own supplies. My district is a Title 1 district; that means most of our students live in poverty, and so, parents truly cannot afford to buy supplies.  A sad situation.
Nov 27, 2013 3:02AM
School is effectively free..no supplies provided by parents = no grade. If teachers would stop supplying all this material, then every school would have to pony up for them or get govt. funding cut for kids not "making the grade". Help your kids by forcing the govt. to supply kids with paper and pencils. If it is "mandatory" for kids to be in school..it should be "mandatory" for the supplies they need to be there too. If they can manage millions in research on cow flatulence effect on the ozone..they can buy the dang paper.
Aug 20, 2013 8:02PM

What I've never understood is why we keep throwing money at our educational system and think that is going to change anything. I've worked with several different school districts and it always seems the same. The money is syphoned off into teacher's retirements and administration. The kids don't see the money they are supposed to see. I observed, in one school district, the principal taking money from the special education classroom fund and using it for the other teacher's time off funding and special pet projects. I saw so much graft and corruption because there was very little oversite.


This, along with the liberal agendas that seem so prevalent in the public school system, is the core reason I took a part time position so that I could homeschool my daughter. With just a fraction of the funding they claim they need per student, I will have her educated far above the level of her grade and in half the time.

Aug 20, 2013 2:38PM
If teachers don't like how they are treated, or paid, or what benefits they get, then they should have gotten a degree and a job in another field.   It would create a shortage, but they knew what they were getting into...none of this is new.   
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] The Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 hover just north of their respective flat lines, while the Russell 2000 sports a solid gain of 0.6% after showing relative weakness yesterday.

Yesterday, the small-cap index reclaimed its 100-day (1150) and 200-day (1151) moving averages, but could not overtake the 50-day moving average (1152), which served as the session high for the index. Today, however, the Russell 2000 has climbed above that level and currently trades near the middle ... More