Lawsuit: Schools shift classroom costs to teachers and it’s wrong 

Parents may be grateful for money and volunteer hours teachers devote to classrooms, but is it right?

Schools and parents have long presumed that teachers will use their own money to buy classroom essentials and volunteer their personal time to help at after-school and weekend events.

A recent Economic Policy Institute study found teachers on average spend at least $459 out of their own pockets each year to outfit their classrooms. 

Georgia teachers spend slightly less, $428, according to the EPI analysis. Teachers in California have the highest average annual classroom, spending at $664 a year. EPI said only 4.9% of teachers don’t spend any of their own money on school supplies.”

I am sure parents are grateful that teachers stock pencils and paper and volunteer at school carnivals and dances. 

But gratitude may not be sufficient reward for the time and money that teachers sacrifice for their jobs.

A middle school teacher in South Carolina is challenging the expectation that teachers dip into their personal time and cash for the betterment of their schools. 

The lawsuit filed by teacher Shannon Burgess maintains, “It has long been a pattern of practice throughout this nation and the state of South Carolina that school districts ... have unconscionably and impermissibly shifted operating costs of the classroom directly on the financial backs of our teachers.” You can read the lawsuit here.

The lawsuit contends:

Burgess and other teachers are required to work as a non-compensated concession stand attendant at the school sporting events.

As a teacher, she was required by her principal to purchase a classroom PTO raffle gift basket. And teachers must routinely purchase items essential to the classroom.

As Education Week reports this week:

John Reckenbeil, Burgess's attorney, said he expects the litigation to reach class-action status in the start of the new year. While he can't sign other teachers on until then, he said there has been interest, especially on the issue of school supplies. 

"If a teacher is required to literally pay for copy paper, and they have to go make copies of tests that are mandatory under state law, ... then I think that copy paper is going to fall under a category that is mandatory for a teacher to do their job," he said. "It's not going to be stuff that is arbitrary or stuff that they want to have, like orange thumbtacks for a Thanksgiving bulletin board."

The lawsuit alleges that the district has a budget for supplies and materials, but Burgess was still asked to pay for items that would benefit her employer—which cut into her paycheck.

Given that we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate to thank teachers for the extras they provide and the money they spend.

But I also think this unofficial but common practice is unfair and needs to end.

Your thoughts?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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