Increasingly, Lilliputian budgets force teachers to reach into their own pockets to buy school supplies and teaching materials. In fact, according to a recent Forbes article, teachers spent an average of $513 of their own money on classroom materials in the 2013-2014 school year. While that amount may seem paltry in other professions, it’s a hefty chunk of a teacher’s salary. The good news is that educators don’t have to choose between paying their bills and supplying their classrooms. Read on to learn about alternative sources of funding for educational materials.
To teachers, it’s no revelation to hear that a lack of school funding places creates inordinate burdens. Millions of teachers have resigned themselves to the fact that purchasing school supplies out of pocket is just a hazard of the trade. One teacher spending study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) found that 99.5 percent of public school teachers spent some of their own money on classroom materials for the 2013 school year. All told, teachers paid $1.6 billion out of pocket for supplies.
With a problem this widespread, someone surely must have thought of a few solutions by now. Indeed, Edutopia offered an insightful article addressing this issue in 2009. The article suggested six ways that teachers can access free classroom supplies, including organizing materials drives and posting gift registries. Building on Edutopia’s foundation, the following list offers updated resources for teachers looking for free educational materials.
As our very own Amanda Ronan wrote in her March 2015 article on this very subject, Crowdfunding is a novel concept that leverages the Internet’s expansive reach to raise money for endeavors that otherwise would perish in unfunded obscurity. Crowdfunding has financed everything from award-winning, amateur-made documentaries to the development of video game system prototypes.
Now, through sites like DonorsChoose.org, teachers can tap into the crowdfunding craze as well. Here, teachers can request specific items and explain how they will benefit their students. Individuals, businesses, and non-profits help fill the requests, and Donors Choose sends the supplies directly to the classroom. To raise 36 percent more from your crowdfunding campaign, be sure that you follow the advice of the National Education Association (NEA) and incorporate social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media neophytes can consult our Teacher’s Guide to Twitter for additional help.
Partnering with local businesses to equip classrooms can prove lucrative, especially if teachers properly incentivize companies. Of course, partnering with the primary purveyors of supplies is the first order of business: Reach out to grocery stores, office supply stores, and superstores with your requests. Remind reluctant businesses that their donations to your school qualify as a tax write-off. If a business won’t provide you with supplies for free, try to at least negotiate a discount.
Don’t underestimate the value of partnering with other businesses as well. For instance, an NEA article on getting materials for free tells the story of teachers who approach local restaurants for free gift cards. They then use the cards in the classroom as rewards for students. Likewise, you might be able to partner with a restaurant to sponsor a fundraiser. Explore the possibility of inviting members of the community to a restaurant for a fundraising dinner and then having the owner donate a portion of the proceeds to your school supply fund.
The same NEA article urges teachers not to overlook larger companies either. The article relates the stories of several teachers who have received free electronic equipment, comic books, and other materials simply by writing to the company. In your letter, describe the population of your school and how you want to use the item. If the business declines your request, follow up by asking if they know of anyone who could help fill the need.
Companies like 3M, OfficeMax and Quill Corporation routinely offer contests, giveaways, grants, and more for classrooms in need. For example, 3M sponsors the Science of Everday Life Sweepstakes in which one teacher receives a classroom gift box worth $60 every month. To find out about contests like these, teachers can visit websites like PennilessTeacher.com and WeAreTeachers.com.
Right now, Penniless Teacher has contests like the Hotspot Giveaway, the prize for which is a device that allows classroom tablets to connect to the Internet from anywhere. Similarly, on We Are Teachers, last year Bearitos Food Company ran a contest that awarded a $2,500 classroom grant while runners-up won two classroom mini-tablets.
Getting your students involved in contests serves a dual purpose: They get an opportunity to showcase their talents, and your school can benefit from the rewards. For example, No Kid Hungry recently sponsored a contest encouraging teens to speak out against childhood hunger. The contest solicited film, art, essays, and poetry from students in 7th through 12th grades. The grand prizewinners received a $500 scholarship as well as a $200 donation to their schools. Both of the sites recommended earlier also advertise contests for students, so check back regularly for new opportunities.
Every month, the NEA posts a list of 10 things available online for free that educators might find useful. This site does the work of combing through the Web for you, posting 10 new resources every 30 days. In January 2015, the resources included materials for a simulated crime lab for grades 5-7. The activity had students collect and analyze evidence by following the instructions on the lesson extensions and worksheets. Teachers can also find free resources available from other government agencies and institutions through the NEA’s 10 Free Things page.
Funding a classroom on a teacher’s salary is as untenable as it is unfair. With so many alternative funding options available, teachers can access the supplies that they need without dipping into their own pockets.