MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 1,000 of Minnesota’s educators say they’re spending hundreds—sometimes thousands—of dollars a year to supply their classrooms, according to an exclusive WCCO-Education Minnesota survey.

WCCO partnered with the teachers union to ask its members questions surrounding how much they spend out-of-pocket, and what they’re purchasing. Forty-one percent of those who answered estimate they spend between $251-$500 a year, 33 percent estimate more than $500, and nine percent say they spend more than $1,000.

“For years I would hide my receipts from my husband just so I could stay married,” said Mary Jo Wareham, who teaches third grade at Skyview Elementary in Oakdale. “And then there was the realization that I was spending more money on my students than my own two children.”

Wareham and three other teachers who participated in the survey joined WCCO and Education Minnesota President Denise Specht at the Wentworth Library in West St. Paul to talk about the state of supplies. Each of the four teachers come from different parts of the Twin Cities metro area. The 1,153 respondents come from various cities and towns across Minnesota.

“The first day of school, I just walk into my classroom and say, ‘These are the things you need.’ This year, maybe 75 percent had everything they needed,” said Northdale Middle School math teacher Sara Woolsey. “And that’s good.”

She was among the majority of educators who report spending between $250-$500 on school supplies. Most of their expenses, they say, go toward enhancing their classroom.

“I go to Michael’s and they know me by name,” said Apple Valley High School’s Dennis Draughn. “They think I’m like, the art teacher or something, but I’m actually teaching history.”

Twenty-five percent of the educators say they get a stipend from the district or the Parent-Teacher Organization, ranging from $40 to $200 if they turn in receipts. Some ask their students’ families to chip into the big-ticket items, like learning software.

“I believe we were asking $10 per family,” said Melissa Campaña, who teaches at St. Paul’s Adams Spanish Immersion School. “You’ll get it from maybe 50-60 percent of them. A lot of times it’s easy to just put in the 40 bucks, 50 bucks to cover the five that couldn’t pay for it.”

Union President Denise Specht spent most of the discussion listening to her peers. When she did speak, she had more questions than answers.

“What other profession has to do this?” said Specht. “Somebody today mentioned having to write a grant for the basics. Having to write a grant for books. I don’t know if I’ve met one physician that’s had to write a grant for tongue depressors.”

More Than 80 Percent Of Teachers Report Buying Clothes, Food For Students

Of the educators who participated in the survey, 82 percent said they spend money on things that aren’t often considered school supplies, like clothes and food for students who show up empty handed.

When asked how often she has to use her arsenal of clothes, Campaña said she does so every day.

“During the winter months, there’s always at least two to three out of a class of 28. There’s always at least two to three kids [who] don’t have something,” she said.

Her colleagues agreed.

However, their reason for buying clothes and food varied from loving their students to investing in them.

“When you’re able to provide things that they don’t expect of you as a teacher — when you can give them tennis shoes and they’re Under Armor tennis shoes or whatever it may be, you’ve now increased their learning in the classroom because they can trust you,” Woolsey said.

Some, like Wareham, lean into their community to donate or make hats and gloves for students.

It’s one of the more creative ways teachers are supplying their classrooms. The more conventional, yet less popular way among teachers: Fundraising. Only 23 percent of the educators surveyed said they raise money for their classroom outside of school functions.

“You’re the counselor, you’re the mentor, the advisor. There’s a lot going on. And then on top you will be a fundraiser too? I guess,” said Draughn.

Of the teachers who fund raise, most use DonorsChoose.org — effectively the educator’s equivalent of GoFundMe.com. One search of the website will show a Perham teacher needing an easel, and a Ham Lake teacher in search of new math books.

Minnesota Teachers Paying Up To Supply Their Own Classrooms

Woolsey said she used the website to fund a classroom iPad. Campaña raised money to buy books in Spanish.

For big-ticket items, like software, districts will sometimes ask parents to help chip in. Teachers can then request a grant through the district to pay for the rest.

“That takes a long time and a lot of thought,” said Campaña. “And I have done some, but a lot of times it’s easy to just put the $40-$50 to cover the five that couldn’t pay for it.”

Almost 75 percent of educators say they do not get reimbursed for the supplies they buy — the same percentage that doesn’t raise money to off-set costs.

Most rely on their own pocketbooks, or the generosity of their community.

“Whenever I see people post things on Facebook like, ‘I have this for free or I have all this clothing, what should I do with it?’ — Check with you local schools because that’s one thing you don’t think about that a school might need,” said Woolsey.

Things like used hats, coats, gloves and extra boxes of tissues or wipes — often serving shelters and charities in need — can serve a school, too.

Christiane Cordero

Comments (2)
  1. Catherine Ryan says:

    Man I could have really upped your average. I am now retired and I spend over $500 on school supplies for teacher friends or specific school drives. I have even paid drivers education tuition for kids whose family couldn’t afford it.