Across the country, school supply drives are kicking off as a way to help students come prepared on their first day of school. But a young nonprofit, Supply the Teachers, takes a different route to remind donors that Austin teachers, whose salaries are below state average, often provide the supplies and materials out of their own pockets.
Nicole Conley Johnson, chief financial officer of AISD, said, “It’s a budget issue. Unfortunately, we have a $30 million shortfall (for the coming fiscal year). We do try to keep pace with supply needs, but obviously our resources don’t always go as far as we’d like them to go.”
According to the Texas State Teachers Association, Texas teachers spend an average of $656 on materials and supplies for their classrooms, out of their own pockets. And the research group E3 Alliance says the average salary of a Central Texas teachers is $50,027, lower than that of other large metro areas and lower than the state’s. Further, more than half of the students in AISD are considered low-income, which means they struggle to pay for their own supplies.
“Unfortunately, it’s the culture and it’s expected,” said Christine McKenna, a chemistry teacher at Akins High School. She says even her students expect her classroom to be outfitted with supplies. “The kids don’t seem to understand that I’m the one paying for things. It is expected that we supply a room and it goes unnoticed when we do.”
McKenna told us about walking into her then-new classroom last school year and seeing chalkboards – rather than white boards – hanging on the walls. “As a chemistry teacher, I like to show the work in different colors so the students can follow along,” she said. But a 4×8-foot white board can cost up to $500. So McKenna turned to the teacher-insider strategy of getting creative. She went to Lowe’s and purchased shower board, which can act as well as white board if cared for. A piece of shower board at that size costs about $15. She hung it herself.
In 2015, McKenna’s mother, Melinda, founded Supply The Teachers, a nonprofit that supports supply requests from teachers in Austin Independent School District. She says this burden is one reason why she was so passionate about the cause. “My dream is for the community to come together to support their local school,” she said. But her approach to solving the issue has evolved.
When it launched three years ago, Supply the Teachers took the path of the typical school supply drive, accepting donations of actual supplies. “We received about $1.4 million of product that first year,” said founder McKenna, “and what a learning curve that was.” She had to call upon friends and contacts to recruit dozens of volunteers to sort, package, and deliver the supplies. “We learned that we’ll never take actual product in our hands again.”
Today, Supply the Teacher accepts monetary donations on its website, and on the back-end, invites teachers to request pre-made bundles of basic supplies. Funds donated to the site are used to fulfill those teacher requests. This fall, Supply the Teacher will launch a new platform that will allow teachers to request specific items for their classroom and allow anyone to “purchase” those items from the site for the teacher, though the purchase would still be a tax-deductible donation.
It’s a more systemic solution, says Johnson of AISD, who has been an advocate for Supply the Teachers since it was founded. “It’s a systemic approach that can reach a wider pool of potential givers so that our teachers can have this additional opportunity to fill up their classrooms.” McKenna of Akins High School says the assistance goes right back to helping her students. “As teachers we want to do out absolute best to ensure that nothing that we can control is in the way of them succeeding.”
Photo by Jimmie on Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)