A recent study released by the National Center for Educational Statistics confirmed that public school teachers pay on average about $480 dollars a year for additional school supplies for their students. The federal tax deduction for teachers who purchase school supplies covers $250 dollars of those supplies, which the American Federation of Teachers suggests means it’s worth between $30 and $60 dollars for each teacher.
Some 94 percent of teachers surveyed reported that they spent their own salary on notebooks, pens, and other supplies without reimbursement. 44 percent of teachers reported spending less than 250 dollars, while 36 percent of those teachers spent anywhere from 250 to 500 dollars. The survey found that teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely to spend their own money on school supplies. That’s probably because these schools have less funding and offer fewer supplies for their teachers, thus forcing teachers to fill in the gaps when it comes to basic supplies like scissors, crayons, paper, poster board, etc. Many teachers argue that paying out of pocket would be less of a burden if their salaries were higher.
The survey comes at a time when teachers across the country are demanding raises, new textbooks, restoration of public school funding, and additional staff supports in school buildings. In many states, like Oklahoma and West Virginia, decades of tax cuts have cut revenue to the public school system, stagnated wages over decades, and led to issues like chronic understaffing, outdated textbooks and classroom materials, thousands of emergency certified teachers, and some school districts operating on a four-day school week because there was not enough money to keep them open five days a week.
It’s worth noting that many of the teacher strikes that have been cropping up — including today’s march in North Carolina, where teachers from 20 school districts will strike, affecting nearly a million North Carolinian students — have been in deeply red states, where these tax-cutting policies have hit public schools the hardest. While North Carolinian teachers salaries rank 35th out of all of the states, on average higher than other states that have held strikes like Oklahoma and Arizona, the cost of living in North Carolina has far outpaced the value of their living wages. Teachers paychecks also fail to reflect how much money goes into a pension, which is untouchable until retirement, and how much money goes right back into the classroom.
It’s also worth noting that eventually, most governors have come around to the teacher’s way of seeing things. In response to Arizonian teacher’s demands, Governor Doug Ducey agreed to give them a 20-percent raise over the next three years and would restore $1 billion in education funding that has been cut over the years. In Oklahoma, legislators conceded to part of the union’s demands and gave them a $6,100 dollar raise and agreed to restore $479 million dollars in education funding. Teachers in West Virginia got a pay raise of five percent. It’s hard to imagine that the teachers of North Carolina won’t be similarly successful.