By Nancy Gutierrez
The $4 billion schools were looking to claim through voter approved funding mandates was cut in half in an agreement between state educators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger Thursday Jan. 8.
Schwarzenegger's budget plan called for an overall increase of $200 in per pupil funding, however educators agreed to cut projected education spending by $2 billion in an effort to help balance the state budget.
Administrators in districts across California have already been working on where the available funds will be spent and teachers will potentially face an increase in the amount of money they will have to put towards their classrooms, an experience with which they are already familiar.
"We receive $150 to $250 at the start of each year for glue, binders, pencils, paper, anything in the classroom that is consumable," Lincoln teacher Shirley Buettner said. "We realistically spend $2,000 to $3,000 [of our own money] every year."
Buettner along with most other teachers keep a record of purchases that have gone towards the classroom. She said she regularly spends thousands of dollars of her own money to buy supplies for her classroom when the funds provided by the district run out.
"I spent $2,000 on books for the students [last year], and another $2,000 on one time use materials," she said.
One time use materials include papers, crayons pencils and other supplies that can only be used once or by single individuals. Lincoln teacher Nancy Frank had a cabinet full of tissue paper, and brown bags that she had to buy herself for the students in her class. She said every year she buys more plastic tubs or shelves to organize the books she buys on her own in addition to what is provided by the school.
"In the last 10 years funding for schools has been cut so dramatically that now it's pretty slim," she said. "It's not a lack of willingness on the part of administration there's just no money."
Many teachers are left with no choice but to buy supplies or leave the burden to parents of their students, while class sizes grow every year. A report by Quality Education Data, an educational market research company in Denver, stated that on average 60 percent of money spent on classroom supplies in the United States in 2002 came from teachers.
The remaining 40 percent came from districts. The Eisenhower National Clearing House, a K-12 math and science teacher center, took an on-line poll and found that of the money teachers spent in their classroom: 26 percent was spent on supplemental materials; 25 percent was spent on basic needs like pencils, paper, bandages and tissues and; 21 percent went towards art supplies or materials for projects or activities.
And new teachers have an even harder time. Buettner and Frank said new teachers start with the bare essentials provided by schools, basically books, desks, some paper, pencils, and crayons. Extra items like posters to make the classroom more inviting or art supplies and materials a teacher would use as rewards for students must be bought by the teacher.
"New teachers don't have the funds at the salary they start with to spend [on classrooms]," Buettner said.
Frank said she spent just as much money as a high school and junior high school special education teacher but the materials were geared towards older students.
Buettner said Principal Pam Camby has been working to find funds for classroom supplies but as class numbers increase so does the amount of supplies. Added onto that is the increased state testing. The state began tests in science for elementary aged students this past year.
"There is a big push to get science scores up," Frank said.
That means creating science experiments for students. But materials usually used to create elementary experiments, like the baking soda and vinegar used to make volcanoes, will come from the couple of hundred dollars provided by the school. With close to 30 students the reality is that the extra expense will probably be covered by teachers.
"If we didn't spend money on our classrooms it would probably affect the quality of our art and science instruction," Frank said. "In this day and age teaching visually is important. We try to reach all modalities in the interest of the children."
These teachers take it upon themselves to buy those extra supplies that will enhance learning either visually or audibly.
"We put ourselves in this situation because we'll spend the money," Buettner said.
But their situation hasn't gone unnoticed and there is a way to help schools and teachers. Adopt a classroom is a non-profit organization with the goal of fostering community involvement in schools. Individuals or businesses can sign up with the organization and provide a $500 donation to the classroom of their choice or pick from a list of underserved classrooms in their area.
The classroom receives 100 percent of the donation and the donor receives an itemized invoice of the purchase that the teacher made for the classroom with the money. The donor will even receive correspondence from the students and teacher in the class. Target stores also has a classroom Wish-list page on their Web site with the names of schools that have a need for supplies and materials.
Organizations or individuals can access the list and purchase items for schools. For more information go to adoptaclassroom.com or target.com keyword wish list.