School funding cuts have long hurt teachers on all corners of the globe, with some shelling out hundreds of dollars on school supplies, as well as on clothing and food for pupils from low-income households.
But has this practice been going for so long that it is now an accepted norm for public schools across many countries? One Business Insider report said US teachers spend US$500 of their own money on school supplies, such as crayons and chalk.
Based on the State of our Schools online survey, the Australian Education Union said a whopping nine in 10 public school teachers use their own money for supplies. Of this number, nearly eight out of 10 public school teachers buy stationery or classroom equipment, while nearly half of public school teachers buy library resources and textbooks.
Over in England, a survey by the NASUWT found that one in five teachers are spending their own money on classroom supplies, while nearly half say they buy food, clothes and even soap for poor pupils, reported The Guardian in April.
“Among the more than 4,300 teachers who responded to the NASUWT education union, 20 percent said they paid for resources such as paper or books used in their lessons at least once a week, with half of those saying they did so ‘several times a week’,” said the report.
“The responses show an education system struggling to function without basic supplies, with one teacher stating: ’We soon will be unable to teach unless we fund it ourselves.’”
Forty five percent of the teachers told the union they had also spent their own money buying basic necessities for pupils over the past year, with most paying for food, while 29 percent purchased toiletries and 23 percent said they bought clothing or shoes.
Is it fair to expect teachers to spend their own money on school supplies?
While some teachers are willing to spend their own money on miscellaneous items, such as fancy stationary to motivate students in the classroom, is it right to expect educators to pay for these basic classroom supplies?
Miranda Public School principal, Glen Carter, told The Educator Australia that when he posed the question: “Should teachers and principals pay for basic resources?” to staff at his school, the response was a resounding “No”.
“I think public schools have been so under resourced for so long, that, as caring educators who want to provide the best resources for their students, we have just gotten into the habit of buying things out of our own pocket,” he said.
He likened the situation to “ambulance officers or nurses paying for medical supplies”, or “librarians having to personally supply their library’s own books”.
A generation of students who lose out
The fact that teachers are stuck between a rock and a hard place – fork out their own cash to provide the basic classroom necessities or learn to work with limited resources – is emblematic of the poor policies that are in place.
While some teachers have found innovative ways to mitigate the problem – such as starting a GoFundMe page to pay for school supplies (adding to their already heavy workload) – governments must step up their efforts to ensure schools aren’t under resourced, forcing teachers to pick up the pieces.
Public school budget cuts are a massive problem for families on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. These families may have little choice but to send their children to resource-limited schools as they can’t afford fees for private schools which may have better resources that ultimately improve student learning outcomes.
Education is meant to facilitate social mobility, but the current school funding crisis makes a mockery out of the right to an education.