The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘In most professions, you steal office supplies from work to bring home. But teachers steal office supplies from home to bring to work.’


It has long been known that most U.S. teachers spend their own money on supplies without reimbursement, so The Washington Post decided to ask them how much they spend on supplies, what they buy and why.

Teachers — mostly in public school districts — sent more than 1,200 emails to The Post from more than 35 states. The portrait the messages paint is devastating — and reveals that educators do more than just spend their own money and have done so for decades with little public conversation about how to remedy the problem.

A story about all of this can be found on The Answer Sheet here, and below are quotes from teachers on the issue. Some of the teachers gave me permission to use their names; others only their state; some, no identifiers at all. Most of the teachers said they wanted to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation from administrators. I am including anonymous quotes because they are powerful and represent the vast majority of those teachers who responded to The Post.

‘I am a scavenger’: The desperate things teachers do to get the classroom supplies they need


Fred Gamble Jr.

I am a resource teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools. A twenty-five year veteran, I have probably invested one year’s salary on supplies for my classroom! At present, I need tissue, hand sanitizer, soap, pencils, paper, and other necessities that will ensure a classroom runs efficiently and healthy.
There are so many reasons for the deficit in funding not only in Prince George's County Public Schools, but nationwide. Society has accepted the ideals that educators must pay for their own supplies because of a multitude of years of underfunding from the federal and local governments. Unless self-employed, no other professional purchases their own supplies!
Because educators are nurturing practitoners, our own funds have sometimes been used to ensure that our students excel academically. It is not and has never been fair to us as professionals.
We are disrespected by our yearly salary, countless demands have been placed on us, and each year more responsibilities for testing advancement accountability has become unbearable. In my opinion these are some of the reasons there is such a shortage for educators in our country.
Thank you for taking an interest in our daily lives. We love children and want them to succeed, however, if a lens of support for our cause is not captured, there will be more negative issues being explored and the achievement gap will continue with regards to our nation’s youth.



I am a 25-year veteran teacher. School supplies are very few and far between. We are not allowed to “ask” from the community. So, essentially, I buy my own supplies.
All of my non-consumable classroom supplies have been purchased by me.
Copy paper is kept under lock and key and we have to beg and promise the wing of a unicorn to get a ream. One ream at a time! I can ask for one blue pen, or maybe one whiteboard marker, but never both ... never, ever....
We are in an economically deficient community, where our students are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and uncles, while their parents are incarcerated or in a drug treatment facility. Therefore, if my students need supplies, it is up to me.


Julia Borstelmann, second-grade teacher

Working at a Title 1 school, we do receive funding for many things, however there are very specific things we can do with that money. For example books bought with Title 1 funds are marked as such and cannot be brought to another school when a teacher moves jobs. I buy some furniture for my classroom to make it more inviting than the 20+ year old clunky things my school has. Also I spend a lot of money on books for my classroom in order to provide inclusive books that reflect all of my learners. Many of the ones I’ve inherited from my coworkers are outdated and don’t interest students. Also: we get supplies from 3M. My school is on the East Side of St. Paul (near their HQ) and many schools in our area receive a bag of supplies for each student. Even that isn’t enough for a student unable to buy supplies as there’s just one notebook and folder, and many miscellaneous supplies we just send home (what 7 year old needs post-it flags?). We really appreciate the support they give us. I also rely on donations from friends and family to support my classroom. I ask friends to donate $9 per student to sponsor them to receive a book each month. Scholastic book orders always has a $1 deal each month so my friends and family pay for each student to take home a book each month. They love the simple gesture and students now have books to read at home. I’m sure this is information you’ve heard from other teachers.


Our schools do not supply most of our teaching supplies. I need sensory tools for my special education students but there’s no money for them so I created 2 separate DonorsChoose projects to get them. I got one funded so far and am almost fully funded on the second. I also purchase things like white boards and white board markers for my students, pencils, cap erasers, notebooks, glue sticks, scissors, headphones, construction paper, markers, crayons, binders colored pencils. Pretty much everything a middle school student would need. Sometimes I find the supplies at the Dollar Tree, sometimes it’s Target or Walmart and sometimes Amazon. That’s just the necessities. That doesn’t take into consideration decorations for the classroom, tissues, cleaning supplies, printing things in color and laminating them at home, etc. Not sure what you need this information for, but teachers are funding their classrooms, not school districts. It’s something most seem aware of, but no one is doing anything about.


Christina Parham

I teach 6th grade math, photography and journalism.
Every year I buy bulletin board paper, laminating film, prizes for my treasure box, printer ink, extra composition books and spiral notebooks, student white boards, lots of expo markers and student erasers, staples, a planner, a mouse, bulletin borders, electric pencil sharpener, markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, rulers, binders, copy paper, poster board, command hooks, file folders, teacher pay, teacher activities and worksheets. I’m sure there’s more.
One time purchases: wireless adapter to connect my laptop to my school TV, PowerPoint clicker, book ends, hole punch, stapler, kid scissors, posters, surge protectors, multiple sized bins and 3-drawer organizers, shelving, teacher scissors. I’m sure there’s more.
I spend my money on all of these items because my school does not supply us with anything besides desks, chairs, bookshelves and a cabinet. I want my students to have the supplies they need to succeed, and I need some kind of organization. Because I work at a charter school, I rely entirely on parent donations for my supplies; however, I feel bad asking parents for anything more than basic supplies. Most of our families can not afford to provide the necessities for a school years’ worth of supplies, so I buy extras for those who can not. Our state does not provide the funds to make public education completely free, so I do what I can to help my students be successful.



I have bought bookshelves because our new school did not have any, and our principal would not let us move furniture from the old school unless it was black.
I buy hundreds of dollars worth of curriculum off Teachers Pay Teachers so that I can have materials to teach with since my school system does not purchase textbooks. There are not enough hours in the day to create these resources. No budget for curriculum is ever discussed with us.
I buy candy to reward my students for good grades and passing [accelerated reader] tests.
I buy art supplies, office supplies, and books for my classroom.
I have purchased tablets for students to use in my classroom.
I bought my paraprofessional a desk.
When you are a new teacher in a school, you have to hunt for a desk and a chair or go buy one.
Poor school systems get no extra money in the state funding formula.
It is frowned upon to speak out and be critical of problems in education because it is bad PR for the school system.
To be honest, the overtime that teachers work without compensation is criminal. It is driving teachers out of the classroom and stopping students from going into education. I have taught school for 25 years in Georgia, and I told my children that I would not pay for them to get a teaching degree.


Jennifer Moless Nguyen, kindergarten and first-grade teacher

This year, I’m trying not to buy too much myself but I’ve already bought ~200 dollars of children’s books. All of the paint my kids use, the bins for their books, and almost all of my furniture is from DonorsChoose projects. I teach K and 1 and until last year, had no dramatic play equipment that I hadn’t bought or gotten funded through DonorsChoose. No dress up, doll play, puppets, kitchen, etc. Without outside funding, early elementary is bleak in too many schools. (Last year my school bought play kitchens for K. The one I bought myself is now in a first grade room.)
DonorsChoose is also how I got the phonics curriculum I needed this year (I paid for the [professional development] to use it myself). (My district provides a phonics curriculum, but no training or time to learn it. I loop from K to 1, so it’s not always clear when/if I’ll get the right curriculum for my grade after a new curriculum is adopted. I got the district K phonics last December and couldn’t find out when/if I’d get the first grade version for this year’s class, and I wanted to be ready to teach it on the first day. We started Monday and I still do not have the district’s phonics, nor any idea if it will appear.)
I have been teaching almost twenty years, all in high-poverty schools. I never know if I will get supplies or money for them. So like many veterans, I have a bad habit of hoarding materials just in case. I’m trying to stop doing this now that school funding is more stable here. It’s hard, though!



We buy supplies for the students who cannot afford them. We buy our ink and paper to provide materials for students to learn. We buy what we need to do our jobs well. Local churches help us as they can. Our state provides some supply money, but it’s not sufficient. Our state doesn’t appropriately fund our salaries or mental health or a good teacher:student ratio for students because the public wants free education for which they don’t personally pay. In the media, on social media, it is the fault of legislators, teachers, school boards. But … ultimately, we all share blame.


Chelsea Bourgeois, second-grade special education teacher

The following is a list of things I’ve purchased this year alone (coming upon my 7th year of teaching).
- small furniture such as material carts and flexible seating, to ensure my students learn in a manner that is best for them
- classroom decor to provide my kids with a warm welcome environment which they enjoy coming to every day
- books for the classroom library (many focusing on social emotional skills based on the needs of many of the students living in the community)
- book bins for the library
- student supplies (notebooks, pencils, folders, scissors, and glue ... so far) because many of the families in the community can’t afford to purchase such items for their children
- board games for teaching turn-taking and social emotional skills
- academic games to ensure engagement and mastery of concepts
- headphones for computers
The answer to why my school doesn’t provide these materials is simple ... a lack of funds. I work in a low income community at a public school in the south Bronx. I feel that it is largely due to this lack of support for the public school system, that many of our students are leaving the school. In turn, the “per student” funding we receive goes with them, creating a cycle that teachers bear the brunt of.
Now, the following is a list of materials that my school IS able to provide their teachers, serving classrooms of 30 students, FOR THE YEAR.
One garbage bag, containing:
- a box of crayons and markers
- ONE package of lined paper
- ONE package of construction paper
- post it notes
- ONE box of pencils
- a pad of chart paper
- approximately 4 glue sticks and 4 pairs of scissors


Anonymous English teacher

I teach high school English, and I think people forget that we have to stock our classrooms, too. While elementary teachers can include things like Clorox wipes and glue sticks on their back-to-school shopping lists, that’s usually not an option for high school teachers.
Either this year or in previous years, I’ve had to buy:
Lined paper, glue sticks, markers, crayons, tape, staplers, scissors, bulletin board backing paper, bulletin board supplies, decorations and posters to make the classroom a little welcoming, tissues, pencil sharpeners, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, storage containers and ziplock baggies, rulers, tacks, etc. (There’s a joke that, in most professions, you steal office supplies from work to bring home, but teachers steal office supplies from home to bring to work.)
I’ve been teaching 15 years now, so at this point, my back-to-school shopping consists of refreshing my supply, not starting from scratch. This year, for example, I just needed to replenish what I already have — I spent about $100 on things like nice dry erase markers and replacement staplers. But when I was a brand-new teacher and had to stock my whole classroom before I even got my first paycheck, it was an incredible financial hardship. My first paycheck (which is small anyway because they take out double for health insurance) went right to paying off all the supplies I’d put on my credit card.
Kids will usually bring most of the stuff they need, but some don’t, or they lose it and need to “borrow” things. So we also end up supplying pencils, pens, sticky notes, folders, binders, composition notebooks, and even snacks.
English teachers are encouraged to include independent reading in their courses, which means we have to keep up a classroom library. For the most part, that means we supply the books. My department got $200 per teacher for us to stock some books a few years ago, but that bought about 25 books. They need to be accessible to a range of reading levels and a broad range of interest. So probably 80% of my classroom library is books I’ve bought myself. I do a lot of shopping at library sales; I beg, steal and borrow used books from friends and family members; but for the popular high-interest [young adult] books, I usually buy full price.
You asked why our school doesn’t supply these things, and the answer is obviously that it’s just not prioritized in the budget. I’ve taught at schools that do supply some of these things — schools that probably have smaller budgets than my current school — but my school just never has. In some ways, we are lucky — we don’t have to pay for copies, we have good libraries, we have enough books for each student. Each of our students is now issued a Chromebook. We are not a low-income school district. We have nice facilities. And being in Massachusetts, I’m not exactly making $35,000 a year. It’s still hard. It’s even harder for teachers who are just starting out.


Roberta Emery, kindergarten teacher

Things I have bought:
PlayDoh; Paints (finger and washable water colors); headsets for the computers or iPads, stamp pads (kids love to stamp words with letter stamps) and even plain paper! I have purchased apps for kids to use on iPads, purchased licenses for online activities and even provided my own iPads for quite some time. (This year, our district cut off all of the site licenses for key programs that helped kids: RazKids; Splashmath; Lexia …) Cuts were made because the state does not properly fund education and the state’s new ed. commissioner is holding off providing budget monies/approval for expenditures.
Things I purchase to make copies at home (because paper shortages are often and we have no access to color copies for anything): paper and ink cartridges
Things I buy regularly:
Clorox/Lysol wipes (for cleaning tables and computer keyboards and other “hands on” materials); Kleenex; Hand Sanitizer. (The latter two I will purchase if parents aren’t sending items in)
Things I ask parents to donate:
Baby Wipes (so kids can also help wash tables); Kleenex; Hand Sanitizer
The school district I teach in is urban and totally without manufacturing/big business to add to tax base, so the state took us over in the early 90's.
The state provides funding with oversight from Department of Ed and a Board of Trustees (made up of 4 city residents and three others ... currently ... most are pro charter school folks and as such have hindered positive progress ... constant changes in administration ... constant changes in curriculum with very little professional development...).
The general cleaning duties of custodians, from a private company, does not include washing tables and chairs in classrooms. Classrooms where breakfast is served daily! (Don’t get me started on the whole “breakfast in the classroom” story either...)
Floor washing happens about every three weeks (exception: someone will come in if a kiddo spills milk/juice at breakfast, if a child vomits, or has an accident...). So, teachers are taking more time to have to wash areas more frequently and more thoroughly than ever before.
Kindergarten classrooms cannot even have their classroom rugs washed. Never mind once or twice a year ... this year: NOT washed at all! I threw my six year old rug in the dumpster!
I have been teaching for 32 years and have never seen such ridiculousness. I never thought we’d be having classrooms with so little support.
Folks are wondering why teachers are leaving, why fewer and fewer folks are going into teaching ... imagine a doctor having to pay for his/her medical equipment and such? A bank teller having to provide the registers, the withdrawal slips, the safes? A chef having to provide the cooking equipment, the foods, produce and such? Never mind their supplies ... how about them having to deal with 23 people in front of them at all times???


Our school gets a donation from a nonprofit at the beginning of the school year that provides crayons, erasers, backpacks, pencils, folders, pencil boxes, and glue. Typically by October this supply is depleted. Once the school supply is out I have to use my own money to supply these items. (Sidenote: I work in a very rural, poor, drug stricken area so parental support is at a minimum. I have about half of my students show up to school empty handed without a single school supply).
The school supplies my classrooms with desks, chairs, tables, and technology components (smart board, chrome books). I have purchased all bulletin board coverings, borders, posters, sentence strips, signs, seasonal decor, locker labels, furniture (chairs, shelves, rugs) ...
If I do any craft or science project, all materials needed come out of my own pocket. I’ve bought apples, googly eyes, clothespins, paint, binder rings, sparkles, paper, vinegar, baking soda, poster board, gummy bears, etc. As I plan these projects I always have to keep my budget in mind.
As I mentioned above, I work in an area where parental involvement is at a minimum. I’ve used my own money to buy my students gym shoes, winter coats, backpacks, gifts at Christmas, pay for students’ lunches, etc. I’ve even had a few families that I’ve worked with in the past fall on hard times and I’ve snuck a gift card to Walmart in the child’s backpack.
I also have to use my own money to renew my CPR (which is a requirement of the job in my state), to further my education (which I cannot afford to do), or take any professional development that is not offered by my district. If I do go to a professional training offered by district I am only paid during the event and my hotel is typically covered, gas and food is always out of my pocket. Also, if I find any teaching materials that are not offered with our curriculum packages I will use my own money to purchase those items. I’ve paid for countless workbooks, teaching manuals, flash cards, lesson planners, etc. and don’t even get me started on the amount of money I’ve spent to supply my classroom with books for my students to read. (I’m a penny pincher on a super tight budget so I’ve spent countless hours creating my own materials and resources.)


I have been teaching for 24 years. From the minute school begins in August, I am sale shopping and stockpiling for the next school year. I find some good deals at Walmart and Office Depot, but this summer I did a lot of shopping through Amazon.
I teach at a very low socioeconomic school and I want everyone to have adequate supplies. I buy LOTS of pencils!!! I get paper, dry erase markers, erasers, .... pretty much any Elementary school supply you can think of. I even buy the toner for the school printer in my classroom. Heck, I even buy Pop-Tarts to keep in my classroom for students who come to school late and missed breakfast. (We aren’t allowed to keep a fridge or microwave in our rooms.)
I spend over a thousand dollars every year, but I can’t stand the thought of a child going without.



I purchase supplies for my students because waiting isn’t practical. I need books for my class library, so this summer I scoured every thrift shop I could find. I spent around $50-$60. I also wrote a DonorsChoose project. It is half funded. For my Science class last year, I purchased tools, duct tape, card stock, copper wire, etc. My students used these materials to create circuit boards, roller coasters, light tight houses, mini homes and more. This year will most likely be the same.
Money is tight throughout the district. Actually, money is tight across the state. Economically, the entire region is suffering. Combine the money problems with the culture issues, students are at a disadvantage. I spend money on my classroom to make sure that my students have the opportunity to be successful.


I’ve been teaching for 20 years as a 5th grade teacher in a Title 1 school. This year, I’m making a change to 7th grade Science. Completely my choice!!
My first year of teaching, I was given $200 to start the year and then multiple opportunities to turn in receipts for reimbursement. However, the following year, the $200 went away and then after that all reimbursements ended.
What I buy that’s not provided by the district:
Colored Pencils
Books (1000s!)
Teacher’s Books for “required texts”
Dry Erase markers
Snacks (for students)
Science materials
Why? Because every child NEEDS these items and because we are a Title 1 school; many cannot afford the necessities. Kids need to have equal supplies; including food. I don’t regret spending this money as I can teach my students when they have all the tools needed to succeed.
Starting 7th grade Science in a week; I know I’m going to be spending money on experiments and I MUST!! How can I not??