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Utah teachers dig into own wallets to buy school supplies

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – When Ana Park’s mother goes shopping, she is always on the lookout for good deals on school supplies that she can donate to her daughter’s classroom.

For Park, a resource teacher at Newman Elementary School in Salt Lake City, the majority of the funds she receives from a Utah legislative grant and the school, will be gone before her students even walk in the door.

“At the beginning of the year, we spend maybe half to three-fourths of that money depending on what we need, and the rest we save because we know that there is always going to be something that we need to replenish,” said Park. “By the time September comes around, we have a fourth of that money left.”

How much money are teachers allocated for school supplies?

For this story, I interviewed three different teachers and went school shopping with one. I took a look at how much money these teachers receive, roughly how much money they spend out of pocket throughout the year and the average salary for the district in which they teach.

Ana Park, Resource Teacher at Newman Elementary School

Allocation according to teacher: $475 total ($175 from Utah legislature and $300 from the district’s special education department) According to Park, general education teachers at her school receive $100 and $25 per student.

Estimated amount spent out of pocket: $200 at the beginning of the year and $400 throughout the year for treats, incentives, or manipulatives.

Average teacher salary for the district: $54,088, though this can differ based on a variety of factors.

Renee Nicholls, 7th and 8th-grade science teacher in Utah

Allocation according to teacher: An estimate of $150 from the Utah legislature. New teachers are given roughly $250, though the amount varies per year. For science classes, students pay a fee which goes towards the budget for supplies.

Estimated amount spent out of pocket: Currently about $50 out of pocket due to the science budget. However, in the past, she has spent $200 out of pocket when working at an elementary school and $500 out of pocket when teaching at a lower income junior high school.

Average district salary: Nicholls preferred not to state which district she worked in.

Teresa Smith, kindergarten teacher at Sandy Elementary School

Allocated funds according to teacher: $175 a year from the state legislature and $10 per student from the school

Estimated amount spent out of pocket: $150 to $200 at the beginning of the year and another $150 to $300 throughout the remainder of the year

Average Kindergarten teacher district salary: $42,060

Maddy Skelton, Second Grade teacher at Stansbury Elementary

Allocated funds according to teacher: $250 as a new teacher

Estimated amount spent out of pocket: $344 out of pocket and still has more to buy

Average district salary: $54,730

What is the money spent on?

Though teachers can use the money they are given to buy the basics, Park said she often spends her own money to enhance her students’ understanding during specific lessons and to reinforce what they are learning.

“I always think about- this is what I’m teaching. What can I do to reinforce that? Especially with students that don’t have the background knowledge, you have to build that in. With some of the students that I work with, they don’t have the opportunities, so I’m always trying to put something concrete in with what I’m teaching,” she said. “With math, if we’re talking about fractions, I’ll go out and get some snickers bars. If we’re sorting, we’ll do skittles.”

Nicholls said that she felt the need to spend her own money on school supplies especially throughout her first years teaching elementary school.

“I felt like my first few years of teaching in elementary and my first few years of teaching at junior high, I could’ve gotten by, but I felt like in order to feel like I was doing a good job, I probably needed to spend a little more.”

According to Park, all students learn differently, and the term “school supplies” does not just encompass paper and pencils. For some students, listening to an audiobook can help them learn effectively, while other students learn better through building or working with their hands.

However, providing students with alternative types of learning requires money and resources.

Furthermore, how much money a teacher pays out of pocket can be dependent on the economic status of the families of the students at their school. Title one schools are those in which at least 40 percent of the enrolled students come from low-income families, according to Student Debt Relief.

Like Park, Teresa Smith teaches in a title one school. Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Elementary, said she has already spent $100 of the $175from the Utah legislature on supplies for the upcoming school year.

Smith said her district does not hand out school supply lists to families due to the financial burden it would cause, so teachers must spend more of their allocated funds on those supplies.

“You still have the end of the year that you need to buy things. You can plan ahead, but you’re going to spend it anyway,” Smith said. “I stopped keeping track of how much I spend because it drives you crazy.”

However, the money she spends out of pocket does not always just encompass school supplies. Smith has bought snow boots, coats, and clothes for students in need. On one occasion, she asked permission to buy a Christmas tree for a student who didn’t have one.

“You find yourself in this loophole all year long spending money on these kids that you love,” she said.

Park too has bought things like socks for her students and snacks for those who come to school hungry. She said that these are things that she is going to go out and buy even if the legislature and the district don’t pay for them.

“These are things that kids need in your classroom so that your kids can be ready to learn,” she said. “It’s not just school supplies. It’s what do my kids need in my classroom so they can be comfortable and safe?”

According to Smith, teachers need more support from parents, districts, and each other in order to provide the best educational opportunities possible.

“Who is going to run this government? Who is going to run this world when I’m gone? Children. We really need to give them the best learning opportunity that they can have. And if that’s not being met in the schools and at home, how are they going to learn how to take over? How are they going to learn the kindness that they need to learn if it’s not in our schools?”

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