Miami Herald: “Here’s how cash-strapped teachers find a way to pay for classroom supplies”
If the swarms of families crowding Walmart and Office Max are any indication, the new school year is fast approaching in Miami-Dade.
Parents and students are looking for the best deals on back-to-school clothing and supplies. And teachers are prepping to greet students Monday with high hopes of a successful school year. Classes in Broward and the Keys started on Wednesday.
Part of that prep includes earning extra money to buy classroom supplies.
“I paint houses to make extra money to survive the summer and the school year,” said Shawn Beightol, a chemistry teacher at John A. Ferguson Senior High school in West Miami-Dade.
Teachers say the average salary of $51,819 in Miami-Dade County can’t keep up with the rising costs of living and buying classroom supplies.
“The dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to,” Beightol said.
According to a survey by AdoptAClassroom.org, a nonprofit that helps teachers purchase classroom supplies through outside donations, teachers spend an average of $740 a year on classroom material. That’s a 23 percent increase from 2015.
The survey was shared with all teachers registered on the organization’s website. More than 4,400 teachers responded.
The nonprofit also found that more than 92 percent of teachers around the country have students whose families could not afford to purchase any school supplies. This has led to many teachers filling the resource gap with their own dollars.
“People don’t realize how much we spend and how much we give to our students so they are are successful,” said Mayade Ersoff, a seventh-grade teacher at Palmetto Middle School in Palmetto Bay. “In a mixed income school like Palmetto, not everyone has the same amount of supplies.”
In response to the burden teachers shoulder for classroom supplies, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature started the Florida Teachers Classroom Supply Assistance Program in 2013.
The concept isn’t entirely new. Florida teachers have received supply stipends in their paychecks or have been reimbursed for supply purchases since 1998.
Scott pushed to increase the amount to $250, distribute the funds through debit cards, and create partnerships with school supply vendors. Now, the amount a school district is given by the Legislature is based on how many students are enrolled in the district’s public schools. The amount allocated for each teacher in a school district depends on how many public school teachers are employed by the school district.
According to AdoptAClassroom.org’s survey, the average classroom budget received by teachers surveyed across the country was $212 a year. Teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools receive more than that from the assistance program — but say that’s not enough.
“We definitely spend more than what they give us,” Ersoff said. “We always get students who cannot afford the basic supplies, so we end up buying extra supplies,” Ersoff said.
Miami-Dade teachers also say that the money is given out too late.
“We don’t receive that money until later on in the fall,” Ersoff said. ”It’s really a crunch because we’ve already spent so much of our own money and [time] trying to look for the best deals.”
For the 2017-18 school year, Miami-Dade Public Schools used the online platform ClassWallet to distribute the assistance funds.
Before that, teachers had to give receipts to the district to be reimbursed. Teachers can now upload receipts through the ClassWallet mobile app or on their computer.
Some teachers say there’s no excuse for the yearly struggle.
“I’ve raised over $4,000 over the past three years with AdoptAClassroom,” said Mary Sisley, who teaches gifted classes at North Miami Elementary. She spends an average of $1,000 each year for classroom supplies.
“It’s neat to know that AdoptAClassroom is helping teachers like me across the country,” she said. “When teachers complain that they’re spending [too much of] their money, there are other options out there.”