Education is big business. Estimates are that over $200 billion are being spent annually to support public education in the United States. Of local school district expenses, approximately 70 percent of the budget monies are used to pay for administrative and teacher salaries. Monies available for purchase of textbooks and teaching supplies are typically about 2.9 percent of the total operating budget for school systems (Robinson and Protheroe, 1995).
School district budgets are not the only monies spent on education in communities. Teachers for years have reported using out of pocket funds to supplement monies provided by local school districts. Teacher expenditures typically are used to support their own classroom teaching by purchasing teaching supplies, materials, and equipment.
In a study conducted in two western states, Latham and Fifield (1993) found that on average, the surveyed teachers spent $444 annually. "On average, elementary school teachers spent $511, middle/junior high teachers spent $298, and high school teacher spent $484 per year." (Latham and Fifield, p. 44). Assuming the correctness of these figures, teachers in the United States are spending more that $1 billion annually for their classrooms.
In a study conducted in Minnesota, Olszewski and Maury (1994) found on average that K-12 teachers spent $492 per year on behalf of their students. This figure is slightly higher than the Latham and Fifield amounts. Typical out of pocket expenditures were spent for instructional supplies, instructional materials, audio-visual aids, incentive and motivational items, food, and for computer software and hardware. Olszewski and Maury calculated out of pocket expenditures to total nearly $23 million for teachers in the state of Minnesota.
In reviewing the small number of studies dealing with out of pocket expenditures by teachers, it appears that teachers felt that school budgets are not meeting the needs of teachers by providing adequate monies for teaching supplies and teaching aids. Therefore, if teachers want to provide an appropriate education, the only recourse for them is to spend their own money.
Statistics on school budgets appear in newspapers frequently, but typically, no mention is made of out of pocket expenditures by school teachers. Also, no reports on out of pocket expenditures of elementary school teachers in South Dakota, Iowa, or Nebraska were found in reviewing educational literature. Therefore, the investigators believed that elementary school teachers in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska would be able to provide valuable insight into the out of pocket expenditures as it relates to those states.
A postcard questionnaire consisting of five questions about out of pocket expenditures and school spending on materials, supplies, and equipment was constructed and field tested. Comments from elementary teachers were also requested.
One hundred elementary schools each in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska were randomly selected from school district directories released by the Departments of Education in each of the states. It was decided that if possible, equal number of first through sixth grade teachers would be sampled in this study. Therefore, in each state, questionnaire number one was addressed to a first grade teacher, number two to a second grade teacher, and on through grade six. The process continued until 100 teachers from the 100 randomly selected elementary schools in each state were selected. A total of 300 questionnaires were mailed to elementary school teachers. Fifty-two percent of the South Dakota, fifty-one percent of the Iowa, and fifty percent of the Nebraska elementary teachers returned their questionnaires for analysis.
The first through sixth grade teachers responded to five basic questions: (1) In the last 12 months have you spent your personal money to purchase materials, supplies, or equipment which were used specifically for your classroom? …