August 25, 2003
Its back to school time for 267-thousand kids in Clark County. Getting them all spruced up for class means buying school supplies. Products from pencils to software for them is a multi-million dollar industry in the county - a price teachers are increasingly absorbing with their own salary as state budgets wane. KNPR's Ky Plaskon has more on this hidden cost of education.
TEACHING SUPPLIES SOQ 2:45
(SOUND OF NEW TEACHER CONFERENCE)
''I am simply going to talk about how each one of you can be an effective teacher . . .''
Getting pumped up for the school year, 14-hundred new teachers in Clark County listen to best selling author Harry Wong. Be efficient with your money he says . . . beg and . . .
''Steal, steal, steal''
''You see something that you like, you say give me give me give me,''
Steal ideas and beg for supplies that is, from other teachers who are in fact accustomed to giving, giving, giving . . .
''We are not talking about teachers buying things for themselves, they are buying it for the kids in the classroom which is the public's kids.''
Many rush out right away to buy stuff. Tracy Snipes hasn't even stepped foot in a classroom as a teacher yet but has already spent 500 dollars at this store.
(SOUND OF STORE)
It's like Christmas at education supply store Learning is Fun. The common name for the store among teachers is already ingrained in Snipes.
2:03 - 2:25
''Learning is Expensive', you have to go in there and pick up things and when you go in there they have so many things for your classroom but yes it is expensive and you find out when you get to the cash register but you find out that to get students to really take a liking to learning, you have to do that.''
And the price of getting kids to like learning is going up. On average 3 million teachers around the nation spend 400 dollars a year, adding up to more than a billion dollars. But that's based on a 1996 study by the National Education Association. Next week (August 27) it'll release new numbers they say have gone up less than 50 dollars per year. According to Office Depot surveys of teachers in urban areas like Las Vegas, it's double, as high as 8-900 dollars a year. After years of spending, the classroom is a colorful place.
(Classroom sound up and under)
This one has airplanes swinging from the ceiling, posters and colorful boxes stacked to the ceiling with teaching supplies Gifted children here are building a 100 dollar roller coaster teacher Sherry Vincent bought. She spends 2-3 thousand dollars a year on school supplies and imagines what education would be like if she and other teachers didn't use their own salaries to augment state and federal funding for education.
1:00 - 1:18
''We tease often times , not humorous, but on a different level. But many teachers will say you know you pack this up and move all of our personal material out of any classroom and there would be not much left inside. It would be interesting to get a before and after picture.''
Since they can't avoid the personal spending, they at least try to avoid taxes on these office supplies.
You know if you are ever audited which I have not been, thank you very much, umm they will many times say this is something that you did not have to do.
2:28 - 2:40
''This is something that you were not mandated to do and you sit there as a humanitarian and think something is wrong with this picture.''
Last year for the first time, congress implemented a new tax law allowing teachers to deduct 250 dollars in educator expenses that are not mandated by the employer. Teacher tax preparer Pam Brown of Bloom Financial says the Two-Fifty doesn't help much because teachers not only have to buy chalk and posters for under-funded schools these days, but pick up the slack for parents too.
:50 - 1:01
''These children can't afford things like even back packs, so the teachers will provide those and then the teachers bring in those receipts and we will total them up and frequently it is in excess of 2-3 thousand dollars.''
Meanwhile she says, most teachers just keep on giving.
''I don't think that they have any idea that what they are doing is deductible, no I think that what they are doing is for altruistic reasons they feel they are doing this to help in society and I think that most of these teachers are very charitable in that manner.''
This year teachers in Las Vegas alone will contribute at least 12 million of their own money to education and the economy according to Office Depot surveys. Despite the spending, lack of sufficient funding for education in the form of teachers salaries will trickle down to students in Clark County who will get the short end of the stick compared to some other states according to new Teacher Kim Williams who came from Utah,
''When I student taught, they spent 500-1,000 dollars on their classroom and so I don't know what I will spend here but it won't be that much. I can't afford it.''
She's already dropped 4-5 hundred dollars on her students. Senator Harry Reid isn't keenly aware of teacher spending around the nation, but he doesn't like to see it here.
''Well I think it's a shame, I drove by a school yesterday and some of the new teachers were walking in and they had shopping bags full of stuff they were taking in to their classroom. IO don't really think that is the way it should be.'' I think the school district should pay for the supplies of the teacher. I think it is simply unfair. These teachers start out paying a little more than minimum wage but not a lot and we should pay for their school supplies.''
There is some indication that teachers are tiring of spending their own money to help the publics kids. In the last year about 1-quarter of the teacher supply stores around the nation have closed according to Learning is Fun - and for that store, one of the largest teaching supply chains, profits are down 2.4 percent.
For Marketplace, I'm Ky Plaskon in Las Vegas
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