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Teachers' Choice cuts mean more out-of-pocket spending on schools

New classroom <em>by ##</em>.
New classroom by ##

It’s unfortunate that in a year when many people are feeling the economic crunch, teachers in the city will likely have to spend more out-of-pocket on classroom expenses, thanks to cuts to Teachers’ Choice funding. The Teachers’ Choice program reimburses teachers for the purchase of supplies ranging from art, science, and physical education equipment to basic office supplies, classroom libraries, and computer software.

Teachers’ Choice was eliminated altogether in this year’s first budget proposal, but thanks to City Council discretionary funds, 60 percent of Teachers’ Choice funding was restored in the final budget. This year, JD2718 writes, teachers will receive $150 (down from $220 last year), social workers, school psychologists, and guidance counselors will get $100, school secretaries $50, and lab specialists $75.

It’s absolutely better than nothing, and I understand that hard choices must be made during economic downturns, but New York’s teachers will certainly feel the pinch. When I was teaching, I could spend my allocation in a single trip to Staples, stocking up on basic supplies that my students would use all year: enough markers, scissors, and bottles of glue that each lab group could have their own, class sets of rulers marked with both metric and standard units, meter sticks, and much more. My school provided basic supplies, but Teachers’ Choice money gave me the flexibility to buy exactly what I needed and keep it in my own classroom where I could make sure it was kept in good condition (not a guarantee when supplies are shared among a whole school, unfortunately). Other schools are much worse about providing supplies; over the years I’ve met a number of teachers who bought small photocopiers because they were paying to have hundreds of copies made when their schools ran out of paper, severely limited photocopying, or failed to repair broken copiers.

The decrease in Teachers’ Choice funding will hurt the newest teachers the most, as a greater proportion of their salaries tends to go to supplies. New teachers are paid least and have not yet accumulated a store of materials for the classroom, as more experienced teachers have. Also, with more years in the classroom, many teachers learn tricks to minimize purchases and keep costs down.

Nationally, Scholastic Administrator reports, teachers spend an average of $475 on supplies, with elementary school teachers spending the most. Teachers can claim a $250 federal tax credit for purchasing materials for school, without needing to itemize their spending, yet for most that is barely half of what they spend on their classrooms.

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