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How to Ask Parents to Help You Pay for Classroom Supplies and Materials |®

How to Ask Parents to Help You Pay for Classroom Supplies and Materials

According to data from, teachers on average spend about $500 out of their own pockets on supplies for their classrooms. “It may not seem costly to buy a few glue sticks here and a few pencils there, but over the course of a school year these costs can add up,” says spokesman Christopher Pearsall. “This isn’t a burden that teachers should have to carry.”

While parents are often willing to contribute, even the most self-assured teachers get a little anxious when asking them to pitch in. Whether you need help defraying the cost of special project materials or reducing out-of-pocket expenses for basic classroom supplies, teachers can — and some say should — ask parents who can help to do so.

We asked a veteran teacher and a parent to share their insights on engaging parents to help with classroom supplies and other materials. Here’s their advice.

Just Ask

Parents can’t help if they don’t know you need it. “Teachers at our school are not shy about sending messages to parents about supplies they need,” says Allison Connor, mother of third- and fifth-graders in Keller, TX. “Our teachers have a place on the bulletin board for ‘Things We Need,’ and there's always a note on the class Web site titled something like ‘Class Needs.’ If a teacher sends home a note saying, ‘We're running out of glue sticks,’ she will usually receive her glue sticks — often, lots of them.”

This is especially true for special project materials, like arts and crafts supplies. “Everyone likes to support a project that’s tangible — they want to know exactly how monies are being spent,” says Laura Staal, a veteran K–5 teacher and professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Explain Budget Shortfalls

Help parents understand the financial impact of tight school and classroom budgets. “Schools are under-funded and sometimes monies are spent on other things like technology instead of the basics,” Staal says. Don’t miss out on parental generosity because you don’t explain the need for funding.

“We all know that budget cuts have profoundly affected our schools,” Connor says. “But parents need to know that teachers, with their already meager salaries, are personally footing the bill for many supplies in their classrooms already. I want my kids' teachers to worry about educating my kids — not whether they’re running low on pencils!”

Leverage Your PTA/PTO

If you’re not comfortable asking individual parents for support, go to your PTA/PTO or, both excellent sources for securing additional funds. “It’s pretty easy to get funding for extra paper and pencils, and other basic writing supplies, and for extra crafts or paints that directly support a special project like a science fair or culminating report,” Staal notes.

Connor’s PTA also helps teachers with discretionary spending. “One thing we do is give each teacher a $75 gift card to help them with classroom supplies,” she explains. You can also ask parents to sign up for major retailers’ rewards programs that benefit teachers and schools. These programs allow parents (and others) to rack up rewards for specific teachers every time they shop. Then you can redeem those points to reduce the cost of supplies and materials.

So the next time you find yourself needing some additional cash for supplies or a special learning opportunity, speak up. You’ll find plenty of people happy to listen. Just remember: Some parents may not have the financial ability to contribute, so give all parents the opportunity to contribute without setting an expectation that they should.

And before you solicit parents, check with your building administrator to investigate school-based resources, grants and other sources of funding. Also make sure there are no restrictions on what and how much you can request from parents.

“Teachers know what their students need to succeed, whether it's essential materials like paper and crayons, or enrichment materials like microscopes, violins and field trips,” Pearsall says. “Money shouldn't limit the imagination of teachers or the possibilities for their students, particularly when citizen philanthropists are ready to make these classroom dreams come true.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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