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Get your school supplies without paying for them

New York Teacher
Highlighters, notebooks, pencils

National polls show that teachers spend an average of $500 of their own money on classroom supplies. As a newer teacher, you might be feeling the pressure to dig into your own wallet to make sure your students have the resources they need.

Fortunately, it is possible to finance classroom projects with grants, donations and other money-saving strategies. Here are some avenues to try the next time you’re tempted to pull out your own credit card.

Apply for a grant. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never written a grant before. Remember your goal is to demonstrate how the funding you receive will help you solve a problem in your classroom or pursue an innovative project with your students.

Where can you find available grants?

  • On the UFT’s website, you’ll find information about grant applications currently open for educators — from $2,000 for an innovative class project to scholarships for science teachers.
  • The UFT’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, maintains a searchable funding database. You can search by grade level and subject area, too.

Seek donations. Most teachers are familiar with, an online charity platform that connects teachers hoping to fund a specific project with average citizens looking to donate. New York City public school teachers have successfully funded thousands of projects through DonorsChoose — including a trip to Columbia University’s Model United Nations Conference for students at East-West School of International Studies in Queens, two Apple iPads for students with special needs at PS 373 on Staten Island and tabletop maps for students at PS 222 in Brooklyn.

On DonorsChoose, you can request donations for materials or a class trip for your students, but you can also request to fund resources or a trip for professional learning for yourself. You’ll need to describe your students and how they’ll benefit from the project you’re requesting. After your project is reviewed and posted, you should share it with your students and their families so they can share it with their own social networks. When your project is funded — and DonorsChoose reports that 70% of classroom projects are funded within four months — you’re required to create a “thank you” package for the donors that includes photos of the project and a letter.

Take advantage of free materials. Plenty of New York City organizations offer free supplies to public school teachers. Materials for the Arts, a division of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs housed in a warehouse in Long Island City, distributes free art supplies to public school teachers. At Project Cicero’s annual book drive, 1,200 teachers at eligible Title 1 schools load up as many books as they can transport. First Book teams up regularly with the UFT to provide free books to New York City communities in need. 

Save your receipts. Teacher’s Choice, a City Council program initiated by the UFT, reimburses educators for the purchase of classroom and school supplies of their choice. In the 2019–20 school year, teachers received $250 in Teacher’s Choice funds for classroom purchases made between Aug. 1, 2019, and Jan. 12, 2020. Teacher’s Choice funds are generally distributed in a November paycheck. Then, you must submit your original receipts and an accountability form to your school’s payroll secretary in January of each year. 

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