The Way Teachers Are Getting School Supplies May Surprise You

A Craigslist for teachers, marathons in the Sahara, and an idea for state-funded debit cards seek to help educators outfit their classrooms.

Teachers spend on average $40 a month out of their own pockets on school supplies. (Photo: Mark Burstyn)
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Each year, American teachers pay $3 billion out of their own pockets on classroom supplies.

Yes, $3 billion.

Teachers in many parts of the country barely make enough to pay bills, much less have extra money to funnel back into the classroom. But fortunately more people—and politicians—are waking up to this critical economic problem in the classroom.

More: The Shocking Amount America’s Teachers Spend on School Supplies (Infographic)

Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott outlined his new education plan last week ahead of the state’s January legislative session. He wants to give every teacher in Florida a debit card to assist in school supply costs that would be funded by private and public investment.

“Teachers are the lifeblood of our classrooms and they help students obtain the skills and talents they will need to get a job, build a family and live their version of the American dream,” Scott said last week in a speech about his plans for Florida’s education system.

Scott isn’t alone in wanting to help teachers stock their classrooms. Across the United States, there is a growing relationship between the private sector and teachers to aid in outfitting classrooms with much-needed glue, paper, and books.

The world’s biggest retailer, Arkansas-based Walmart, has a teacher rewards program that gives teachers at select schools $50 gift cards to aid in purchasing supplies. According to a release from Walmart, the program will donate up to $4.5 million to provide 90,000 teachers with the cards. Other companies like Office Max have similar programs.

The National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIR), a Galesburg, Ill.-based nonprofit organization, recently launched a new “Teacher’s Program” that allows teachers to order free classroom merchandise.

For decades, NAEIR has been America’s oldest and largest organization that solicits and receives donations of excess inventory from American corporations and then distributes them to a membership base of over 13,000 charities. Teachers pay a small membership fee of $19 per year, plus nominal handling and processing charges. They have access to paper, pens, crayons, highlighters, markers, stickers, arts materials and seasonal party goods.

But teachers aren’t waiting for politicians and corporations to come to their rescue.

Educycle is the brainchild of California school teacher Mary Loung. The website—a Craigslist of sorts for teachers—helps other teachers sell or pass along usable school materials and shop for ones they need. Businesses can also donate any surpluses to schools via the website. Loung came up with the idea about two years ago when the school where she worked trashed an array of supplies before the school was remodeled.

Recent listings on the site included more than 100 different booklets and transparency masters on an assortment of college level topics ranging from statistics and nursing to management and communication and 10 boxes of classroom paperback library books from a fifth-grade classroom.

Boston special education teacher Liz Byron plans to raise $50,000 for 30 new laptops for her students by running in a 155-mile ultramarathon through the Sahara desert. The race is the most intense foot race in the world with 120-degree heat and sand storms. Runners cover 26 to 50 miles daily during the six-day race in Morocco.

“It may seem like a crazy race but what we attempt to do every day as teachers is a bigger challenge than trying to run 155 miles in the Sahara,” Byron tells Boston’s WBZ.

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