Back To School: Teachers Paying Out Of Pocket For Supplies


By Vicki Adame,

As students return to the classroom, they will arrive with everything from pencils, crayons and notebook paper to calculators, wired headphones and three-ring binders.

But often, families struggle to pay the cost or simply are unable to purchase the supplies.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), parents with children in elementary through high school will spend an average of $696.70 this year. That’s up from the $684.79 spent year and shatters the previous record of $688.62 set in 2012.

Schools in Connecticut have a list of supplies students need to purchase. The items needed vary depending on grade level. For example, in Wallingford, Dag Hammarskjold sixth graders are asked to bring earbuds, pens and pencils, colored pencils, a small hand pencil sharpener, colored pencils, and highlighters. Second graders at Read School in Bridgeport are asked to bring one pack of #2 pencils, sharpened; two black and white composition notebooks; a box of crayons; glue sticks; a chunky pink eraser; a one subject spiral notebook; and a pair of earbuds.

However, 15 million children — 21 percent — live in poverty in the United States, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP). And their families simply don’t have the means to spend nearly $700 on school supplies.

A 2014 Pew Research report found that the poverty rate for Hispanics 17 and younger in the state was 30 percent.

According to EdSight, the total student enrollment for 2018-2019 was 530,612, and Hispanics accounted for 136,756 students in the state’s schools.

As a result, the burden often falls on teachers to pay for supplies out of pocket.

On average, Connecticut teachers pay $500 out of their own pocket in school supplies each year, said Nancy Andrews, communications director for Connecticut Education Association (CEA) — the union representing teachers in the state.

“But that amount can go up to $1,000, even $1,500,” Andrews said. “Most dip into their modest salaries to spend on supplies. Teachers are always very generous and give of themselves.”

Andrews said that even though the salaries of teachers stagnate, “they always make time for their own classrooms and students because they care that much for their students.”

Alison Kirchberger, Teacher, Hopeville Elementary, Waterbury

Fifth-grade teacher Alison Kirchberger typically spends about $500 a year in her classroom. But the Hopeville Elementary teacher in Waterbury also uses to help get funding for supplies and class trips.

“We’re lucky that our district does give a budget for the classroom,” Kirchberger said.

But the budget covers only the basics — such as pencils and paper.

“It goes back to wanting what is best for our students,” she said.

Kirchberger wants her students to have the same opportunity to learn and that’s one of the reasons she uses DonorsChoose.

This school year she is looking to get funding help to purchase sketchbooks, colored pencils and individual sharpeners for each of her students.

In her post seeking the funding, she wrote, “My students also face the adversity every day of not having everything they need for success. All of my students receive free lunch, and most receive food bags from a local church community every Friday. In my classroom, we focus on being a family. We support each other and are all kind to one another.”

Last year, Kirchberger was able to get 30 sets of headphones for her students to use on the Chromebooks used by students in the class. The funding came through DonorsChoose.

Often the donation is made by companies or foundations.

“I really want to create an environment that is conducive to the students,” Kirchberger said.