Washington, D.C.-area public school teachers spend millions of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses to buy extra supplies for their classrooms, according to an investigation and teacher survey conducted by the News4 I-Team.
The purchases include a wide range of classroom items, including stationary, cleaners, prizes, food, printers and posters. Those expenses also included specialized equipment and room furnishings not made available by school districts, according to teachers who responded to the I-Team survey.
The survey of more than 1,200 public schools teachers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, was conducted in an unscientific online poll by NBC Washington in September. Almost half of the teachers who responded reported spending more than $300 this year in out-of-pocket expenses for classroom supplies. About 500 others reported spending between $100 and $300.
“Teachers are buying glue sticks, paper, pencils and tissues. These are things that are essential, and they’re doing it year after year,” said Missy Dirks, head of the Frederick County Public Schools teachers union.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re a new teacher or a 30-year veteran,” Dirks said. “They’re spending money on their students.”
Several survey respondents reported purchasing yoga chairs for students who experience attention deficit disorder. A Montgomery County Public Schools biology teacher reported purchasing a microwave oven to assist with classroom experiments. Dozens of teachers said they’d purchased food or clothing for needy students.
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Walkersville Middle School teacher Nissa Quill said she and colleagues regularly purchase hand sanitizer, wall hangings and student prizes out-of-pocket. Quill said most teachers also purchase a personal supply of pencils or index cards to quickly hand off to forgetful students.
“If I have it in my room, that means I won't have to run around or borrow it from someone else,” Quill said. “Most of the teachers I know spend a substantial amount of money."
D.C. Public Schools provide teachers a $200 gift card for yearly supply purchases. The stipend is contractually required under an agreement between the school district and its teachers union. Teachers must stock supplies to avoid disrupting lessons when students fail to bring the needed materials,” Union president Elizabeth Davis said.
“Teachers do what's needed for their kids,” Davis said. “They want fewer distractions. They want students focus on their lessons."
In a series of public records requests, the I-Team checked with all local public school districts to determine how much assistance they provide teachers who make out-of-pocket purchases. Arlington Public Schools said it provides a $43 stipend each year. Anne Arundel County Public Schools said it offers $100 to each teacher.
Several other major local school districts, including Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Stafford County and Prince George’s County said no stipends are offered, but each said it provides a large, robust offering of supplies for teachers to use in the school buildings.
A spokesperson for Manassas City Public Schools said, “MCPS has budgeted adequate funds for the purchase of all classroom supplies for teachers. As such, teachers should not have a need to purchase classroom supplies out-of-pocket.”
The school district said it spent $1.2 million on classroom supplies and materials last year.
Prince George’s County Public Schools, which serves a much larger population of students, said it spent $8.56 million on classroom supplies last year.
Quill said out-of-pocket supply expenses are not optional for most teachers, who must maintain continuity and discipline in their classes.
“Teachers are very creative,” Quill said. “So when we have that idea in our mind of what our 'stage' is going to look like, we work really hard to achieve that. It's going to end up with the best result for our students."
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.