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Teachers shell out own money to stock up on school supplies

Shelby Kerner has spent weeks combing through stores and looking for deals on school supplies.

But unlike a parent, she's not shopping for just a few kids. Rather, she needs to buy pencils, markers, spirals and highlighters for 20.

Kerner will welcome her new third-grade class at Hawk Elementary School in Denton on Wednesday. By that time, she said she'll have enough school supplies in her room to last for a semester — maybe.

"The kids will bring enough to last through December and so I'll try to buy enough for the next half of the year," Kerner said. "Come Christmastime or spring break, I'll start buying things again."

Hawk Elementary teacher Shelby Kerner has spent her summer break purchasing supplies and crafting decorations for her third-grade classroom. In addition to classroom decor, she also buys extra school supplies and cleaning products in case parents can't afford everything on the school supply list.DRC
Hawk Elementary teacher Shelby Kerner has spent her summer break purchasing supplies and crafting decorations for her third-grade classroom. In addition to classroom decor, she also buys extra school supplies and cleaning products in case parents can't afford everything on the school supply list.
DRC

Though her school provides desks and chairs for her classroom, everything else is on Kerner's dime. She said she'll typically spend anywhere from $300 to $500 of her own money to buy supplies, decorations and other materials for her class.

Right now, Kerner's room is adorned with bright tissue paper poms, bins filled with books and a cheerful birthday bulletin board. But she's hardly the only teacher to spend her own money on supplies. In fact, it's become the norm for most throughout the country.

Data from the Education Market Association says teachers spent an average of $500 on supplies last year. One in 10 spent more than $1,000.

"I'd like to meet a teacher who doesn't spend any of their own money, and look at their classroom," Kerner said. "It would just be furniture."

In her fourth year of teaching, Kerner said she's developed a method to help her save. She makes a list of all the nearby stores that offer teacher discounts and always carries her employee badge with her. She also asks for classroom supplies as gifts during the holidays while other teachers have taken to crowd-funding websites.

Kerner considers herself lucky, however, because most of her kids' parents can afford to pay the $75 to $90 needed for the third-grade school supply list. According to data from the Texas Education Agency, Hawk Elementary has a much lower economically disadvantaged student population (8.5 percent) than the district average of 42 percent.

She said her school has a "classroom budget" option at the end of the year when teachers can order supplies for up to $200 through district-approved vendors.

"I used it for printer ink," she said. "I ran out midway through the year and I couldn't afford it, so I had to go half the year without it."

Money and education have always gone hand-in-hand, even more so this year as state lawmakers try to reform the school finance system. 

After funding bills stalled during the regular session because of disagreements over a school voucher program, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, proposed a bill in the special session that would inject $1.8 billion into the public school system. 

The Senate's education chairman, Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said Huberty's bill was "not a long-term solution" and proposed the creation of a committee to study the school finance system. Huberty said another study is unnecessary, according to The Texas Tribune. 

Kerner said she's keeping up with the ongoing legislation, but isn't counting on much change.

"There's always the answer that the state could give us more money," she said. "But I just don't think it's going to happen."

But, as many will attest, teaching isn't about the money. Kerner grew up in a teaching household and couldn't see herself doing anything else.

"I teach for the 'Aha!' moment," she said. "Whenever a kid is struggling with something and they finally understand it, that's why I do it. If that means I have to spend my own money, I'd rather do that than sit in a cubicle all day."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.

FEATURED PHOTO: Hawk Elementary School teacher Shelby Kerner preps her classroom for the 20 Denton ISD students coming to her third-grade class on Wednesday. Kerner is in her fourth year of teaching and estimates she spends between $300 and $500 every August on classroom supplies.
Caitlyn Jones/DRC

In the Know

The state's tax-free weekend runs Friday to Sunday. Consumers won't have to pay sales tax on certain items priced under $100 individually. Check out the list below to see what you can save on. For more information, go to https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/publications/98-490/.

  • Binders
  • Book bags
  • Calculators
  • Composition books
  • Crayons
  • Erasers
  • Folders; expandable, pocket, plastic and manila
  • Glue
  • Highlighters
  • Index cards
  • Legal pads
  • Lunch boxes
  • Markers
  • Notebooks
  • Paper
  • Pencil boxes
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Pencils
  • Protractors
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • Writing tablets
  • Sandals
  • Tennis shoes
  • Hats
  • Socks
  • Jackets
  • Jeans
  • Neckwear and ties
  • Scarves
  • Workout clothes
  • Uniforms
  • Raincoats
  • Slippers
  • Skirts