Updated on 06.30.17

The K-12 Teacher’s Guide to Funding Classroom Supplies

It’s often been said that you can’t put a price on education, but what about the out-of-pocket classroom expenses incurred by educators each year? In 2015, the average teacher spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 with 10% spending $1,000 or more. And these were not isolated incidents. According to an AdoptAClassroom.org study, 91% of teachers make these costly investments in their students’ education.

As an educator, nothing is more important than ensuring your students have the tools they need to learn. But how do you get the funding necessary to facilitate that growth when it’s likely to come out of your own pocket? Furthermore, how do you make do with what you have? If you’re a K-12 teacher looking for help, check out the following strategies for funding your classroom without breaking the bank.

How to Get Funding

There are several ways you can find the funding necessary to give your students the best educational experience. From taking advantage of tax deductions to utilizing cash back credit cards, we’ll cover some of the best ways to raise money for classroom supplies.

Tax Deductions

K-12 teachers can take advantage of the Educator Expense Tax Deduction to help put a dent in out-of-pocket expenses. To be eligible, you must be a K-12 teacher and have at least 900 hours of work experience at a school that is state-certified to provide elementary or secondary education. The latter requirement can apply to public, private, and religious schools.

Up to $250 max can be deducted from your taxes to cover educational materials, including:

  • Books
  • School supplies (notebooks, pencils, pens)
  • Computer equipment and software
  • Athletic equipment (physical education)

Just be sure to keep receipts when shopping for the classroom. (And remember that you can only deduct expenses if you are not already receiving reimbursement from your school.)

Grants

There are thousands of grants available to educators. Of the various types of grants available to K-12 teachers, two of the most common types are federal and private.

Federal Grants

Federal grants are economic aid issued by the United States government. You can find a massive listing of federal grants on Grants.gov; filter results by the “Education” category.

Private Grants

Unlike federal grants, private funding does not entail funding from any federal, state, or any other public agency. Rather, private grants are funds distributed to the community based on a particular organization’s mission – many of which include helping educators. A few examples of private grants that help K-12 teachers include:

Sites like InsidePhilanthropy are a great place to start when looking for private funding for your classroom. Edutopia is another great resource for finding classroom funding.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding success stories are no longer reserved for inventors and budding entrepreneurs. K-12 teachers can now utilize popular crowdfunding platforms to help fund their classrooms. In fact, it was reported that educational crowdfunding campaigns managed to raise almost $140 million in 2015.

Let’s start with the most popular platforms. There’s Kickstarter and GoFundMe, but if you are looking for an education-focused platform, there’s also DonorsChoose. But how do you choose the right one — and how do you crowdfund effectively?

Kickstarter

On the surface, Kickstarter is a place where projects receive funding from interested patrons. It’s home to a huge array of campaigns ranging from inventions to business ideas to art projects. As a result, it can seem a little daunting to educators looking for classroom funding.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through Kickstarter

Since Kickstarter is more commonly a platform for innovative ideas than for general funding or charity, it might help if you developed a particular classroom initiative or project for your students to carry out. A project involving a creative showcase of students’ ideas or inventions could gain traction. A good example of a successfully-funded Kickstarter classroom campaign involved a class receiving the necessary support for a green classroom. Not only did they make their classroom more energy efficient, they were able to afford the materials necessary to learn more about conservation and solar power.

GoFundMe

Lots of people use GoFundMe not just to help fund their own educational endeavors but to raise money for their classrooms. K-12 teachers can make use of this platform as well.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through GoFundMe

To raise the necessary funds, explain what your lesson plan will entail and the specific supplies you will need to make it happen. This gives potential donors a chance to see where their money is going and generally helps successfully fund most campaigns on this particular platform. Greta Van De Carr is living proof that if you reach out with a solid lesson plan and a reasonable goal, people will come together for the children. Now she can afford the books she needs and the iPad for the class to share.

DonorsChoose

DonorsChoose is the quintessential platform for teachers who need a little help providing their students with an enriching experience. In fact, it’s such a great platform that 70% of all projects submitted are fully funded.

Crowdfunding Your Classroom through DonorsChoose

It helps if you can try to estimate just how much funding you’ll need. There are plenty of personal budgeting apps that can help you get a clearer picture of your classroom expenses. Around 90% of projects that total less than $200 are successfully funded on DonorsChoose, but more ambitious endeavors can also succeed. Be specific about your needs, and include information about your vision for the classroom experience to help donors connect with your campaign. Michelle Ramos, who teaches PreK-12 was able to get the funding she needed for multiple projects using DonorsChoose, ranging from arts and science to games and puzzles for growing minds. She also shares the secret of her success with other teachers whose campaigns were fully funded.

Choosing the Right Platform

While Kickstarter is the household name in crowdfunding, it might not be the best platform unless you have an ambitious, innovative idea. The ideal platform for most K-12 teachers will likely be DonorsChoose, but there have been some great success stories on GoFundMe. You might also try organizations like AdoptAClassroom.org, where you can register your classroom to receive funding and donations.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Another way to lessen out-of-pocket costs:  opt for a cash back credit card. Particularly a card that offers high-rate cash back on the types of purchases you’re already making.

These cash back rewards can really add up, especially if you’re earning them with a card that rewards your regular spending habits. Redeem your rewards for statement credits or gift cards (depending on the credit card you choose) to spend on the supplies you need. As long as you don’t alter your spending to earn more cash back, this is essentially free money for your classroom!

Making the Most of What You Have

Locating additional funding can be a little tricky. Whichever strategy you choose it’s smart to make the most of what you already have.

Buy in Bulk (And on the Cheap)

Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy your school supplies in bulk. Stores like Dollar Tree have online shops where you can buy composition notebooks, safety scissors, markers, and more in bulk for a reduced “case” price.

Ask for Donations of Gently-Used Supplies

There’s no shame in asking for donations, and you might find that plenty of people are willing to donate their gently-used supplies for your class. Put the word out at your local church and if there are any community groups in the neighborhood, let them know you need supplies. If you have a colleague who is about to retire or move on to a new age group, see if they have any extra classroom supplies you could use. Your local library is also a great place to check for any gently-used book sales as many of these institutions are all-too-eager to contribute to the classroom.

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