Each school year, a Needham Elementary School teacher hopes to buy pizza for her kindergartners.
Cookie Bullington promises her 5- and 6-year-old students that if they all learn to count to 100, she’ll throw them a pizza party.
That promise is usually enough to prompt students to start counting as high as they can as fast as they can. The motivated students also ask around to see how high their classmates can count. And if a child is falling behind, a classmate will often find a way to help them.
If her students do earn the reward, Bullington has to cover the cost for the pizza party herself. That, along with the cost of stickers, motivational notes and other rewards for students, along with calenders, posters and other classroom materials, adds up each school year.
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But she keeps buying them, typically spending money out of her pocket because they help keep students engaged, she said.
“I would be hard-pressed to say that without these incentives kids wouldn’t learn. But I think it helps,” Bullington said.
Local teachers buy stickers and stories that students can read in their free time and chip in if their classrooms are running low on notebooks, pencils, glue and other vital supplies. Each year, that amounts to between $250 and $500 for Bullington. And the costs can be even higher for new teachers, who are setting up classrooms for the first time.
“All that stuff when you’re starting out, it’s not free,” Bullington said. “And if you’ve been doing it as long as I have, they need to be replaced.”
Bullington already takes a federal tax deduction up to about $250 each year for the supplies she pays for on her own, and state lawmakers are considering giving her and other Indiana teachers similar help on their state income taxes. The Indiana House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would grant teachers a deduction on their state income taxes for classroom supplies they pay for themselves, up to $200. The bill is now being considered by lawmakers in the Senate.
“What we’ve tried to do this year is focus on public schools, putting the money back in the classroom as much as we can,” State Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, said.
At the start of each school year, parents are asked to buy art boxes, pencils, paper, glue and other school supplies, along with Kleenex, hand sanitizer and other items for their students and the classroom.
The PTO at Needham Elementary also stocks a supply closet at the school with more of those items that students can use once the supply from parents runs out.
“We try to ask for enough that it’s going to last for a while,” Bullington said. “At the beginning of the year, we’re good, for the most part.”
Teachers also receive about $100 each from the school’s PTO to help pay for classroom supplies each year. Bullington can also use some of what parents pay in textbook rental fees for supplies, but only if what she’s buying will be used by every student in class.
“Things being what they are, $100 goes really quickly when you’re buying for a classroom,” Bullington said.
Bullington, who has been teaching for more than 20 years, covers whatever costs are needed and that she can afford throughout the school year. But she also has her own books, posters, calendars and other items she can reuse year after year. First-year teachers typically have to spend more than she does when buying items for the first time, she said.
“When you’re just starting out, there’s just a lot of teacher stuff,” she said.
Bullington is encouraged that lawmakers are considering the added deduction for teachers. If the bill now being considered passes, that won’t necessarily mean more money for Bullington, but she’ll have more to invest in her classroom, she said.
“I wish we could claim more. But every little bit helps,” she said.
Here are the details of the bill being considered by state lawmakers:
The bill: House Bill 1005
What it would do: Allow teachers to take a tax deduction similar to the amount they spend themselves on school supplies, up to $200
Status: Has passed the House of Representatives, is being considered in the Senate