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Teachers Should Never Have to Spend Their Own Money on Supplies

Quite frequently when scrolling through social media I read a stories about teachers who are asking for help purchasing basic school supplies for their classrooms. As I dive deeper into these stories, I hear how school districts lack the funding to purchase these items for their educators.

When I read these stories I feel bad for teachers. I reflect on my own teaching experiences in the Chicago Public Schools and the Sarasota Public Schools and recall this same scenario. At the beginning of each year we were given a very small budget for purchasing supplies and beyond that we were on our own.

As a former high school principal and current superintendent I have the unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of school finance. It has been fascinating to discover that - at least here in Iowa where school funding is equitable - districts should have the financial resources to purchase basic school supplies for all teachers.

Sure, the amount of money allocated to public schools could always be better. However, it is my belief that teachers should never have to spend their own money on basic supplies. Furthermore, teachers who are being told there is no money in the budget for basic supplies are being failed by school leadership.

Let's take a step back and think about human needs. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that people are motivated to fulfill "basic needs" before moving on to other, more advanced needs. In the context of schools, one could make a case that school supplies are among the most essential necessities. Let me be clear, "basic needs" does not mean laminating machine for every teacher or a 3D printer for every student. Rather, I'm talking about fundamental supplies, resources, and equipment needed for a classroom to operate.

One other piece of research supporting the concept of meeting basic employee needs comes from Gallup's research on the 12 Elements of Great Managing. For management to be effective, research indicates that all employees should "have the materials and equipment to do their work right." Leaders who are not able to provide employees with basic necessities create an environment of disengagement, poor morale, and high turnover.

Teaching is already one of the most stressful professions. As school leaders, we must always look for every opportunity to remove barriers and put our staff in the best position to be successful. In our district we are getting better at allocating funds for teachers to meet these needs. While we aren't quite where we need to be, our mindset has shifted to where it is the responsibility of the school - not the teacher - to purchase these supplies.

The next time you read about a teacher asking for help with basic school supplies I want you to realize this may not be a school funding issue. Instead, this could be a reflection of school district leadership.



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