By Annie Kim
Last Updated: August 14, 2021
As families prepare their back-to-school budgets, teachers are also trying to figure out how much they can (or will need to) spend to outfit their classrooms with supplies, decor, and even books.
Dipping into their own pockets to pay for classroom supplies is nothing new. In fact, the phenomenon has been studied by the U.S. Department of Education for at least a decade, and the majority of Americans (85 percent) believe teachers should not have to spend their own money for classroom supplies.
Still, our research indicates that few teachers expect to complete the school year without spending money that’s never reimbursed – here’s how much they typically spend on supplies.
- The average amount teachers spend without getting reimbursed is $511. One in four teachers spends over $750 on supplies.
- A quarter of teachers say their schools don’t provide any funds at all for classroom supplies.
- Only 25 percent of students are sent to school with all or most of what’s requested on back-to-school supply lists given to their parents.
Average Out-of-Pocket Spending Reaches $511
Eighty-nine percent of teachers told us they spend money on classroom supplies that’s not reimbursed by the school. Only 11 percent have no out-of-pocket expenses related to outfitting their classrooms.
The overall average spent out of pocket, meaning money that’s not reimbursed by the school, was $511, though about one in four teachers spent upwards of $750 they didn’t get back on classroom supplies. A quarter of teachers say their schools don’t provide any funds at all for classroom supplies.
How much are teachers spending out of pocket on classroom supplies per year?
For teachers that do spend their own money outfitting their classrooms, they shell out an average of $19 per student, while their schools budget about $11 per student. That means teachers are spending nearly double per student than schools are to cover the cost of supplies and other items that fall outside the school’s budget.
Private school teachers are in a slightly better position, though 79 percent of them still pay for supplies without being reimbursed. Among the 90 percent of traditional public school teachers with out-of-pocket spending, the average spent over what the school reimburses is $946 vs. $323 for private school teachers with non-reimbursed spending.
Almost Half of Teachers Don’t Benefit From Parent-Supplied Lists
In recent years, teachers have turned to parents to help share the cost of necessities for the classroom. But items on back-to-school supply lists for parents don’t usually cover everything teachers need to purchase. For about 55 percent of teachers, parents’ back-to-school shopping lists do include items specifically for the classroom, but that leaves just under half of teachers without that boost.
And even in classrooms where parent-provided supplies include items specifically for teachers’ classrooms, three in four students arrive at school without everything on the list. One potential reason for so few students to arrive at school with the requested supplies is that, according to the latest Census data, about 14 percent of families with children are below the poverty line compared to just over four percent for households with no children present. Overall, about 17 percent of U.S. children live below the poverty line.
What percentage of your students provide ALL of the supplies on the school supply lists?
|Percentage of students bringing all required supplies||Responses|
Where the Money Goes
The average teacher spends about $120 per year on classroom decor, but the most expensive category on average is non-consumable classroom supplies. This is a broad category that includes books, curriculum, equipment, and software but excludes consumable supplies like pencils or notebooks. The average teacher spends more than $135 per year on non-consumable classroom supplies.
Average teacher spending per category
|Non-consumable classroom supplies (books, curriculum, equipment, software)||$136|
|Consumable student supplies (pencils, notebooks, facial tissue)||$100|
|Food and snacks||$85|
|Prizes and rewards||$84|
|Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer||$50|
While items like classroom decor may feel optional or like a luxury, the fact that teachers are spending the most on books, curriculum, and other necessary equipment means students may be at risk of not being adequately served if their teachers can’t afford to buy what they need.
Studies have shown that teachers with access to high-quality instructional materials are better equipped to ensure the best possible educational outcomes for students. One study indicated that effective instructional material had the same impact on what students learned as going from an average teacher to one performing in the 80th percentile.
And for some students, equipment, technology, and other materials are necessary not just to achieve the best possible outcome but to have any success at all in school. This is particularly the case in special education classrooms and for students with physical disabilities, and, unfortunately, too many schools are unable to provide what students need.
Giving Back to Teachers
Through our Great Teacher Giveback, we’re working to ease the burden on teachers. We're giving away four $500 prizes to help deserving teachers outfit their classrooms with new supplies this fall. Click here to learn more about the contest or enter for yourself or on behalf of your favorite teacher.
Many American teachers have become so accustomed to spending money to purchase items for their jobs that they just fold this spending into their regular household budgeting. As one teacher told us, “Our PTO reimburses $100 in receipts each year, but I usually have way more than that in costs, not including the purchases that I make little bits at a time as needed (snacks, art project supplies, Mother's Day gift supplies, prizes/rewards, treats, etc.) that just get added to my weekly shopping trips for my own family." And while some teachers in our survey indicated that they feel they spend too much of their own money on their classrooms, many others find the costs necessary to provide adequate instruction to their students.
We surveyed 299 U.S. teachers about whether they spend their own money to provide items for their classrooms and whether they are reimbursed for these expenses. About 81 percent of respondents teach in traditional public schools, 10 percent in private schools, seven percent in public charter or magnet schools, and two percent in other types of schools. Our survey was conducted online in July 2021.