September 2011 Issue
August 25, 2011

Educators dig deep to aid students

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: NYSUT United
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With New York schools losing some $2.5 billion in state funding since 2010, educators are all too familiar with "doing more with less."

Fewer teachers. Fewer support staff members. And even fewer of the needed supplies to do their jobs.

While more educators are sharpening their grant-writing skills and finding alternative ways to stock their classrooms, the most steady source of funding for supplies - from paper and pencils, to classroom materials and even coats, shoes and food - unfortunately remains NYSUT members' own paychecks.

On average, teachers spend $1,000 out of their own pockets annually for school supplies, according to the National Education Association. The 2010 National School Supply and Equipment Association

Retail Market Awareness Study found 92 percent of teachers report spending their own money on school supplies and 85 percent spend their own money on instructional materials.

"When state and local aid is decreased, those lost dollars include resources for classroom supplies," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. That reality hit home for thousands of New York City teachers. In order to save jobs, Teacher's Choice, a joint city- and union-funded program to reimburse educators for supplies they purchase was eliminated this year.

"Teachers and school-related professionals are not required to, and should not be expected to, provide materials and supplies they need to do their jobs," Iannuzzi said. "But the reality is when our members see a need, they meet it, too often out of their own pockets." From garage sales and thrift stores, to teacher appreciation sales and more, educators find ways to provide for their students. "I easily spend $1,000 a year on my classroom and students … We are only given $200 a year to spend on supplies so the rest is out of pocket," Tricia Sardella, a member of the Peru Association of Teachers wrote on Facebook. " … If a child is in need of clothing, an alarm clock, food, etc. I have to help. How can I watch a child struggle?" Donation websites are another resource. Started in 2000 by Charles Best, a former New York City social studies teacher and NYSUT member, DonorsChoose connects public school teachers with donors willing to help fund educational projects. NYSUT members have received thousands of needed supplies, including books and other classroom materials, electronic equipment, rugs and art supplies. To date, donors have funded more than 35,000 projects, totaling more than $15 million in New York state alone.

To try and find out just how much NYSUT members are spending on their students' needs, NYSUT United is launching a long-term project to track member spending and investigate how much other resources, including grants and sites like DonorsChoose, have replaced funding for supplies at the district level.

What you can do

  • If you haven't already, create a Facebook account and "like" the NYSUT United page at You'll receive a notice once we post poll questions and you can join the discussions. We also post links to deals like this one from SmileMakers for discounts up to 50 percent off and free shipping when you use the special ordering code NEAMB. Visit for more info. (Not into Facebook? Email your expenditures to at the end of each month. Write "out of pocket" in the subject line.)
  • At the end of each month, we'll post a poll question on our Facebook page, so you can tell us how much you spent on school supplies, classroom materials, and non-school related items for students (food, clothing, etc.) Be sure to check the site at the end of August to log your back-to-school expenses.
  • Share your story on Facebook. Let us know what innovative ways you are helping your students.

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