News Story

Do Teachers Buy Classroom Supplies? Districts Say ‘We Do’ And Have Receipts

Grand Rapids Schools Issues Over 170 Cards Employees May Use for Purchases

For years, the Grand Rapids Education Association has shared social media posts about teachers who say they have to purchase supplies and teaching materials out of pocket, for which they are not reimbursed.

One social media post shared by the local Grand Rapids teachers union was of a MEA survey that showed educators “spend hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket every year equipping their classrooms and students.”

But the state constitution requires taxpayers, not teachers, to pay for classroom supplies deemed essential to their jobs.

The state’s Supreme Court and Department of Education have both determined that the Michigan Constitution assigns to school districts the responsibility for providing materials deemed essential to teaching a classroom of children.

In 2017, the local union posted on Facebook, “How long?” and linked to story on the MEA state teachers union website that said, “Despite declining pay and benefits over the past decade, educators have continued spending out-of-pocket to fund their own classrooms. But the wear on public school employees is showing, and policymakers are not paying attention.”

The local posted this despite having and presumably enforcing language in its labor contract stipulating that the district pay for supplies.

“The Board will provide all materials required to complete duties as assigned, including but not limited to textbooks curricular materials, appropriate technology, and required software by the first week of school or after the first week of the new semester, if applicable,” the union contract states.

Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt said the district allocates money for materials and supplies. He said each principal of each school has an account that covers reimbursements to staff for approved supply purchases.

The district issued more than 170 credit cards to school employees. The vast majority of employee credit cards had a user limit of $500.

One card had a user limit of $200,000.

That specific card had 266 charges on it for the month of May 2019, for a total of $97,714.20. There were 17 purchases from the Grand Office Supply company for a total of $2,014, with another charge to an office supply company for $539.15.

There were numerous other charges that could have been used to purchase supplies, such charges to Meijer, Best Buy, Staples, Sam’s Club and Amazon.