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Teachers to see 40 percent boost in classroom supplies fund

The City Council is adding $2 million to its popular Teacher’s Choice program, which provides teachers with money to stock their classrooms with supplies not typically provided by schools.

The council budgeted $6.5 million for the program this year, enough to provide about $80 per teacher. That’s up 40 percent from last year, when the program received $4.59 million, enough for teachers to get $57 stipends. (Union officials haven’t yet posted a complete breakdown of how much money each school staff member will receive through Teacher’s Choice.)

It’s the program’s third straight funding increase, and the highest total for Teacher’s Choice since council members gutted the program in 2011 as a concession to avert teacher layoffs. Still, the budgeted total is a far cry from the program’s pre-recession levels, when teachers received more than $200 each.

As Teacher’s Choice funds declined in recent years, teachers have increasingly resorted to private fundraising, using crowd-sourcing sites like DonorsChoose, AdoptAClassroom, and ClassWish.

The program prohibits teachers from using the money for basic supplies that principals are contractually obligated to provide, like textbooks, but it can be used for supplies like tape, scissors, art paper, and rulers.

Teacher’s Choice was created in 1986 with support from the city teacher’s union to give teachers some purchasing power outside of the typical process that was tightly controlled by school administrators and school board members. It was designed to reimburse teachers for at least some of the money they spend out of their own pockets, especially after years of city and state spending cuts.

The program’s funding, or lack thereof, made a brief appearance on the campaign trail last year. Just days before the United Federation of Teachers announced which candidate it was endorsing in the Democratic primary, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, the union’s eventual pick, proposed restoring Teacher’s Choice funding to $200 per teacher and officially adding it to the Department of Education’s yearly spending plan.

The City Council allotted a total of $24 million in education-related spending as part of its annual list of discretionary awards, according to a budget analysis released on Monday by city Comptroller Scott Stringer. Free lunch in middle school ($6.3 million), the Urban Advantage science program ($3.5 million), and dropout prevention services ($1 million) are also being funded.

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