Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies, spending nearly $480 a year, far more than the federal $250 tax deduction available to teachers.
The findings by the National Center of Education Statistics released Tuesday come as teachers across the country are walking out of classrooms to protest low pay and demand pay raises. Helping teachers pay for class supplies was a key demand during the Arizona teachers' strike.
Ninety-four percent of public school teachers say they spent their own money on notebooks, pens and other supplies in the 2014-15 school year without reimbursement, according to the study. The average amount spent was $479. About 44 percent spent $250 or less, while 36 percent spent $251 to $500.
Currently, teachers who spend their personal money on children's classroom needs are able to reduce their taxable income by $250. That amounts to roughly $30-$60 in savings for each teacher, according to the American Federation of Teachers, a relatively small sum that is still regarded as a token of appreciation by educators.
Teachers pushed back strongly last year when the tax bill passed by the House called for eliminating the deduction altogether. The Senate version of the bill, meanwhile, sought to raise the deduction to $500. In the end, the two chambers reached a compromise, and the deduction remained unchanged.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Tuesday that the study demonstrates a lack of funding of public schools in America.
"Educators want to help children; that is why as long as their kids lack the essentials, educators will continue to dig deep, while fighting the defunding and underinvestment that created this crisis in the first place," Weingarten said in a statement. "There is no other job I know where the workers subsidize what should be a cost borne by an employer as a necessary ingredient of the job."
The study also found that teachers in high-poverty schools were more likely to spend personal money on school supplies. Eighty-six percent of teachers in schools that don't participate in free or reduced lunch school program said they paid for classroom needs, while around 94 to 95 percent of teachers in schools that did participate in the programs said they paid for classroom needs.