It is already back-to-school season in my neck of the woods. Our school district operates on a modified year-round schedule and Monday is the first day of school for the 2013-2014 school year. As I was out shopping for classroom supplies, I ran into several teachers doing the exact same thing and they weren’t alone. According to new survey data, teachers spent about $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies during the 2012-2013 school year.

The $1.6 billion in out-of-pocket expenditures account for about half of all school supply purchases, which totaled $3.2 billion according to the survey, which was conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA). It isn’t just a small segment of teachers that are spending their own money to stock their classrooms, though. NSSEA survey data shows that 99.5 percent of respondents used personal funds on school supplies and 10 percent spent $1,000 or more on supplies. 

Other findings from the 2013 NSSEA Retail Market Awareness Study (PDF) include:

  • The average expenditures per teacher include $268 on school supplies, $491 on instructional materials and $186 on miscellaneous classroom supplies during the 2012-2013 school year. 
  • 25 percent of teachers responded that parents are required to purchase classroom materials, down significantly from the 47 percent reported in the 2010 survey.
  • Approximately six out of 10 teachers know about parent-teacher stores and of those, 94 percent have shopped at these stores. 
  • Online school-supply shopping has increased to 16 percent in 2012-2013 from 11 percent in 2010.
$1.6 billion is a lot of out-of-pocket money and it isn’t like teachers earn C-suite level salaries. I live in a district that doesn’t require parents to purchase school supplies but because I have family members that are, or were, public school teachers, I always buy the items on the list. 

What surprises me most, is that some people think a school supply list is absurd. The schools should supply everything the child needs to learn, right? Unfortunately when education budgets get cut, the first things to go are small items like pencils, crayons, notebooks and folders. Although I can buy five folders for $1, these consumable items add up and so they quickly get the axe.

So, if you’re one of those parents that grumble and complain when the school supply list gets sent home, think about the teachers. On a collective basis, they are spending about $1.6 billion on school supplies to educate your children. 

If you shop the back-to-school sales you can easily keep your shopping under $20. I was up and out early on a Sunday morning when the first back-to-school deals were offered in my community and I purchased everything on my daughter’s list for $8. All it takes is a little planning and you can help ease the financial burden on your child’s teacher.

via [Education Week]

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