Connecticut teachers give so much of their time and their energy to their students, but hundreds of local educators told NBC Connecticut Investigates that they are giving a lot of their own money, too. How much is too much?
"We just do it. It's a labor of love and we just do it," said Rose Diehl-Ortiz, a second grade teacher Stafford Elementary School in Bristol. So far this school year, she said she’s spent about $250. She said that the amount would at least double in the months ahead.
"I looked at the amount and I was like 'wow, Rose, that's a lot'," said Diehl-Ortiz.
"You have some students that come from some pretty disadvantaged families," said Maureen Hilsdon, who teaches first, second and third grades at Montessori Magnet at Batchelder in Hartford. She expected to spend at least $500 for supplies for her students.
"You're not going to wait until you hopefully will get some money from the district," Hilsdon said. "You're just going to go and get it."
Hilsdon said she does receive some money, which varies year to year, to buy additional supplies not provided by the district. But a lot of Connecticut teachers said they get no financial help. Often there is a gap between the number of dollars and the number of supplies needed.
"I have filled the gap using my own money," said Susan Fabrizio, a fifth grade teacher at Louis Toffolon Elementary School in Plainville. She said she expects to be spending up to a $1,000 on her 19 students this year. "Pencil boxes, pencils, post-it notes, pens, markers, crayons for every student that walks into this room."
Teachers said that they are also buying non-traditional items such as food, clothing and toiletries for kids.
Hundreds of teachers completed the NBC Connecticut Investigates CT Teacher Survey 2019 on classroom spending, which asked teachers what they are buying and how much of their own money they are spending. Only one percent of teachers anticipated spending less than $100 this year. Twelve percent expected to shell out $100 to $300, while 31 percent thought they would spend between $300 and $500.
Thirty eight percent of respondents, meanwhile, expect to spend between $300 and $500. Eighteen percent of Connecticut teachers who completed the survey said they will spend over $1,000 of their own money on supplies for their classroom this school year.
"It is inspiring," said Kristin Irvine, principal at Stafford Elementary School in Bristol. Irvine said she sees not just the generosity of her teachers; but their creativity, too. She said teachers often share materials and they're always on the hunt for a good deal. "Anywhere where they've got freebies, they're grabbing them," said Irvine. "They're grabbing things at conferences, things they know the kids will love."
The alternative is that students would just go without.
"It's something that is concerning for us," said Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), which helped distribute the survey along with AFT Connecticut. Leake said the teachers' voluntary spending is a by-product of school budgets that are not sufficient.
"We are trying to do the best we can in the state of Connecticut in terms of funding schools - it's not there," said Leake.
In the meantime, the financial gap will likely be filled by teachers who are already so invested in Connecticut kids.
"Would I rather spend the money on something else? Absolutely, but I don't mind," said Diehl-Ortiz. "I want them to be successful."
Connecticut Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona responded and said teachers give of themselves for their students to succeed, personalize their classroom and provide extra tools for their students to be successful.
“One of the ongoing challenges for districts is to make sure that teachers have the right tools to meet the diverse needs of their learners. While teachers will always be giving and contribute to their classroom, it’s critical that they are provided the necessary curriculum and materials to do the important job they need to do,” Cardona said.
Another resource they give, he said, is their time.
“Another resource teachers give that we often don’t think of is the amount of personal time they put into their classroom and at their homes on behalf of their learners. I know teachers who work twelve hours a day or more to make sure lessons are planned and that students have the support that they need. Often times that goes unnoticed but it is appreciated,” Cardona said.