Wyoming Teachers Spending Their Own Money On Classroom Supplies Is Common

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

As with any budget, there are always unexpected expenses. When it comes to public education, it’s often the teachers who make up the difference. 

A recent survey showed that over 90% of teachers around the country spend their own money on their classrooms and students – money that is not reimbursed by their school. And due to inflation, those costs are going up. 

Wyoming teachers are luckier than most – the state education budget, supported by mineral taxes, provides each teacher with an “allowance” to cover supplies and other minor expenses. 

But there’s always more that can be done, according to educators from around the state. 

Every School, Every Level 

Michael Jaycox is an elementary music teacher in Powell, but he’s taught at every level, from kindergarten through college. He told Cowboy State Daily that no matter where he’s taught, he has given, paid for or bought something with his own money for his students. 

“When I was teaching high school, I helped out a lot with reeds (for wind instruments) for kids,” he said. “I just would buy a whole bunch of them, give them away, and then if they couldn’t afford it, I would just eat the loss.”  

Jaycox said that at his first job, he had a very small budget (around $1,000) which had to cover everything from travel to student festival registrations and band supplies. Although he is now an elementary music teacher in a district that has more funds to spend, he still purchases school supplies for his students. 

“I’ll buy pencils, crayons, I buy children’s books all the time,” Jaycox said.  

Buy Now, Ask Later (Maybe) 

Jaycox said he will often purchase items for his classroom, knowing that the school would reimburse him – but he just doesn’t ask. 

“One of our Christmas programs a couple years ago, we used little finger lights, and the finger lights were like 100 for $20 or something, so I just bought those,” he said. “During COVID for Halloween, we weren’t allowed to sing or anything, so I ended up buying a whole bunch of glow sticks for all the kids. Those things I think they would help me pay for, I just don’t ask.” 

Better Support In Wyo

According to the survey of 210 school teachers in the U.S., which was conducted online in July of this year, one in four teachers said their schools didn’t allocate any funds for classroom items this year.  

“I would spend anywhere from $1,000-$2,000 on school supplies each year,” said Cara Sommers, who worked as a teacher in Idaho for six years. She said her school budget didn’t allow enough money for supplies.  

“My budget for band was very small,” Sommers told Cowboy State Daily. “I needed the budget money to pay for instrument repairs.” 

Sommers said students were expected to bring items from home, such as tissues, dry erase markers, binders, folders, and the like.  

“Those items would only last for so long, so I would foot the bill for the rest throughout the school year,” she said. 

But she pointed out that’s not the case in Wyoming. Now the band teacher at Centennial Junior High in Casper, Sommers said schools here have more funding available. Tim Foley, assistant superintendent for Park County School District 6, said the state of Wyoming has one of the fairest school funding models. 

“The schools will provide basic school supplies for students who may not have access to the money to buy them,” Foley told Cowboy State Daily – and Sommers confirmed that the same option is available in other parts of the state as well. 

“Natrona County School District pays for all basic student school supplies,” Sommers said, explaining that for the past three years, the district has offered to pay for basic supplies for all students. “That money comes from the district and not from individual teacher budgets. This means families don’t have to pay for any school supplies unless they want to, aside from backpacks and the like.” 

Teacher Resources 

There are resources available to teachers outside their own pocketbooks, however. 

“Amazon, they encourage teachers to make a list and publish that list,” said Brenda Farmer, a retired middle school teacher and elementary principal from Park County. She said the online retailer offers “Classroom Wish Lists,” a version of Amazon’s gift registry, in which teachers list the items they’d like for their classrooms. 

She said she and her husband make it a point to donate annually to teachers in her family and friend group so those teachers can purchase supplies for their classrooms. 

“When they publish a list, we have a set amount that we spend on each of them, and then (Amazon) ships it right to them,” she said. 

Teacher Jasmine Garcia in Sweetwater County posted an exclamation of gratitude on Facebook Tuesday, after someone purchased every item on her Amazon classroom wish list. 

“Buying materials for classrooms never comes cheap…. And for someone to do this for me…. Just blew me away!” Garcia wrote. “Seriously, thank you so much!”

There are other resources outside of Amazon, as well. The savings.com report lists companies such as Apple, which offer as much as $150 in gift cards towards the purchase of certain computer products; Target, which offers discounts on school supplies for teachers; and Michaels, where educators with a valid school ID can get 15% off their purchases. I

Foley pointed out that the elementary and middle schools in Cody have parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) that provide school supplies.  

“Some PTOs supply teachers with money to buy books and supplies for their classrooms,” he said. “Title I schools also have monies for the purchase of instructional materials.” 

Jaycox said he has found considerable support for purchase requests from the administration at Parkside Elementary in Powell, although not every request has been approved. 

“But (my principal will) recommend me to the parent group,” he said. “Like, I wanted to buy a parachute, and the parent group was able to buy that for me, which was really great.” 

Foley added that the district collaborates with local businesses, faith-based organizations, and first responders who have provided backpacks with supplies. And assistance is available for more urgent needs, as well. 

“Park 6 has a liaison for students who do not have stable, full-time housing,” he said. “This individual can help students obtain supplies and other things they may need.”  

Average Teacher Spends $560 in Supplies 

The savings.com study showed that the average amount teachers will spend out of their own pockets this year has gone up, from $511 last year to $560 this year. However, nearly 25% of teachers surveyed said they will spend more than $750 during the 2022-23 school year. 

That’s an increase of around 10%, according to the survey – which is approximately the rate of inflation over the last year.  

But Farmer pointed out that in Wyoming, teachers and administrators are well supported – and they put the kids first. 

“We are so blessed,” she said. “All over the whole state. I know in Park 6 and Park 1, there are just high caliber teachers who will give and do anything for their students. And absolutely amazing administrators, and the focus is on kids all the time.” 

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