teacher classroom budgets

What Teachers NEED To Buy With Their Classroom Budget

Table of Contents

New Year, New Classroom Budget!

With the start of a new school year comes new money allocated for teachers and their classroom budget.  This money must be spent or it is often lost.  A use it or lose it situation.  Over the years I have frustratedly witnessed teachers and administrators alike hastily spending away on silly things just to get the money spent. That’s why I decided to write this article as a guide to help educators make some smart decisions about how to spend their money this year.

Shocking Data – You’re not alone!

Teacher Personal Spending Survey

According to survey results released by National nonprofit in 2018 (shared by Adopt A Classroom), teachers have an average classroom budget of $212 that is provided to them by their district or their state.  However, if you take a look at the 2021 report from Adopt A Classroom, teachers spend an average of $750 per year out of pocket on classroom supplies.  There is a definite disconnect between these two numbers.  That is why teachers need to be sure that money they are given is being spent wisely.  If you are a teacher that finds yourself in a situation where you need more than your budget allows, I advise you to seek out help before spending out of pocket.  There are tons of resources and organizations that will help.  You can also write grants.  Check out my article on grant writing tips, if you need assistance.

What Is The Money Called That Teachers Receive For Classroom Supplies?

Let’s start with what EEF is, for those that might not know or might be new teachers. Donna Nester, manager of School Financial Services at the Mississippi Department of Education said, “EEF money stands for Educational Enhancement Funds. The funds are specifically designated for certain programs and one such program is the EEF Instructional Supply Program.” This is not the same in every state, although most states offer something similar that is given to teachers for classroom spending.  Louisiana calls theirs the Education Excellence Fund (EEF) and Florida calls theirs the Florida Teacher Classroom Supply Assistance Program.  

Essentially, it is money given to teachers that they have full control over how to spend.  It is typically only a few hundred dollars but they can purchase anything that they need to use in their classrooms. 

What Do Most Teachers Spend Their Classroom Budget On?

Many teachers spend their classroom supply funds on basic items such as printer ink, pens, pencils, paper, paperclips, sticky notes, and staples.  These types of supplies should really be supplied by the school.  Classroom supply money should be dedicated to teaching materials.  I do understand that some teachers aren’t given basic supplies like copy paper and therefore have no other choice but to purchase it with their classroom supply budget.  This is just sad, but I have been there which is why I became such a grant writing expert!  However, the focus of this article is how to make these dollars really count.  I would suggest taking a look at this article from TeacherVision offering Money Saving Hacks for Teachers to also gain some insight into buying do’s and don’ts for your classroom.  I want to focus on things you can purchase that will truly help you teach and your students learn.  Let’s get down to business.

Teachers often will worry more about what the room looks like rather than what tools they have in it to teach with.  I am not trying to insult anyone, I’m simply pointing out the trend.  I was very guilty of this myself during my first two years as a teacher.  True story, I spent almost $3,000 dollars of my own money my first year.  No, that isn’t a type O.  I quickly realized that some items were very necessary and to be fair, I bought a white board for my room, as I didn’t have one that the students could read.  It was so old and ghosted so badly that it was useless.  This made up a hefty portion of that $3,000 spent. 

Don’t Spend YOUR OWN Money!!!

I want to make it clear that you DO NOT have to spend any of your own money on your classroom in order to be an effective teacher. I had to find a way to give my students everything they needed and that I felt they had to have without continuing on this spending spree from my personal pocket.  Don’t be pressured by all the adorable classrooms you see online and feel like you’re “supposed to” buy all these decorations and color coordinate everything in your classroom. Don’t worry about what everyone else is getting. Every classroom and every student is unique, so you shouldn’t expect your needs to be the same. No two teachers are alike, no two groups of students are alike, and so no two classrooms need to be alike. 

How Should Teachers Spend Their Classroom Budget?

spend your classroom budget wisely

Focus On Student Needs

Priority #1 for your classroom budget is to prioritize students’ needs.  I recommend getting to know your students a bit before making any purchases.  This is crucial.  You may have some very specific and unusual needs that must be prioritized with your small budget.  For example, sensory chewing items for ADHD kids and wobble stools are two things I found myself buying regularly for specific students.  These items changed the focus and productivity game for some of my students in a way that nothing else did. They are also things that many teachers don’t consider or even think of.  Start with items that are very specific to individual student needs and then work on the classroom as a whole.

Tools To Master Subject Matter

Next, you need to consider the subject(s) you teach and what is going to best assist both you and your students in mastering the subject matter best.  I wrote an article about how I did this as a 5th Grade Reading teacher and what materials I used.  I encourage Reading teachers to check out my 5 Proven Reading Strategies to find out what works and how I utilized these resources and strategies in my classroom with real students, many of which were struggling.  In this article I highlight the resources that I utilized.  They are resources that worked for students and resources that made my job easier.  I believe that this is the magic balance that every teacher must find.  Your sanity is also important and you can’t be constantly looking for or purchasing new resources, so purchase wisely!

Consider Student Engagement

Once you have addressed your special student needs and your subject resource needs, you must consider student engagement.  This is just as important as your subject matter, if not more.  If students aren’t engaged they will not learn.  You must find ways to make learning fun and interesting.  A big part of keeping students engaged this day and time is technology integration. 

Students live in a world filled with technology and they are used to getting immediate results and feedback.  Teachers must incorporate this culture into their classroom if they are going to be successful at getting their students to grade level appropriate benchmarks.  I know this is hard for some of you to hear and to implement.  If you are fearful of technology I recommend you start with 2 resources that I have previously created just for you.  The first is an article, 10 Technology Skills Every Educator Needs To Survive.  The second resource is a video, Transforming EdTech Fears Into Faith.  These resources will help you get started if you are new to technology in the classroom.

Technology Considerations

When looking at the technology teachers often feel this has to cost a fortune.  That is not true!  You can use free resources such as: Toy TheatreEdPuzzleGoogle Slides, or Insert Learning.  All of these are free resources and I have linked our instructional/tutorial videos to get you started with them, if you aren’t familiar.  Technology doesn’t have to cost money.  There are tons of free resources available, you just have to go looking.  You need to decide on this very strategically.  I hate to see teachers using technology just to use it.  Figure out what works best for you and your students and use only the resources you need.  If you don’t have an intentional purpose for a piece of technology, don’t use it! 

Now, some technology does cost but can be hugely beneficial.  I am a strong believer in STEAM integration and Project Based Learning.  You should choose some form of technology that is robotics or coding related to use in your classroom.  This choice can be overwhelming.  There are vast amounts of product options available and I can tell you from experience that they are not all created equal.  I have spent money in the past, only to find out that the product did not deliver what it promised or was clearly not suitable for classroom durability.  This is one of the main reasons that we offer vetted products as one of our services. 

We Take Vetting VERY Serious!

As experienced educators, we have first hand knowledge of how difficult it can be to run a school or classroom on a tight budget.  This is why we take the time to vet products based on effectiveness, quality, & price.  We look at what it can be used for in the classroom, meaning what subject(s) does it pair well with.  Also, will it stand the test of time in a classroom environment with little people snotting on it or dropping it.  Lastly, we look at what you get out of it for the price.  That’s what this whole article is about, making your money go the farthest.  You can check out our full offering of vetted products here.  This is something we enjoy doing for our educators and we take it very seriously.  We don’t put just anything on our list.  So this can be a great place to start.  You can also reach out to us if you have any questions or if you need assistance choosing a product.  Just send us an email!  We would love to help.

Resources & Recommendations

I want to offer a few suggestions but this can get very confusing if you try to target it as a one size fits all approach.  So, I will give an overview of some of my top recommendations and then leave you to reach out to us or visit our products page for more information that is specific to you and your needs.  The easiest way to do this is by grade range, in my opinion.  The list is based on more mainstream options and more common budgets.  We offer much more on our vetted products page.

PreK-2nd grade:

  • Kibo 
  • Blue Bot or Bee Bot (These two are very similar. Blue Bot offers a few more features)
  • Tuff Bot
  • Osmo (there are several options available depending on your subject focus – you can search our products page using “osmo”)
  • Botley (The STEAM kit can be used with grades 3-5 for students that have less coding experience)

3rd – 8th Grade: (these will depend on the students’ level of coding experience some these will work through 12th grade)

  • Snap Circuits 
  • Little Bits (Again, there are several options available depending on your needs & budget – you can search our products page using “Little Bits”)
  • MaKey MaKey
  • Ozobot (This little robot is one I have used with younger students as well.  He is great if your budget is smaller.)
  • Dash or Cue
  • Pro Bot (This is one of the few robots that is really focus on math skills – great for geometry)
  • Ino-Bot (This is a great bot for a Computer Science classroom as it teaches coding languages and works with Scratch. This robot is one that can work for 3rd-12th grades depending on student experience and comfort level with robotics and coding.)
  • Kai’s Clan (This amazing bot offers students coding, AR, & VR.  It is a full STEAM tool box in one robot.  The classroom pack is the cheapest way to go, if your budget allows.  If not, look at the starter pack.  These robots can also work for 3rd-12th grades, depending on student experience and comfort level with robotics and coding.)
  • Da Vinci 3D Printers (These printers are easier to operate and have fewer parts to maintain.)

9th – 12th Grade:

Please visit the 3rd – 8th list, as many of those options will also work.
  • Zumi
  • Dremel 3D Printers (These printers can be a bit more advanced but are still easy to use. I recommend them for more advanced users mainly because they involve a bit more knowledge to maintain.)

Best for Schoolwide purchases:  (I recommend buying a few kits and using them on a teacher/classroom checkout system to get the best bang for your budget bucks!)

  • VR Headsets (I recommend buying a few kits and using them on a teacher/classroom check out system to get the best bang for your budget bucks!)
  • STEM Labs – K-5 STEM Lab6-8 STEM Lab, 0r 9-12 STEM Lab (Each lab comes with everything you need to teach STEM.)
  • AI Labs (These are customized for your school)
  • CoDrones or CoDrone Mini
  • Easi-Scope Microscopes (You might purchase this for a classroom if it is strictly for Science, but consider a departmental purchase as a way to reduce cost)
  • Active Panels (These are great options for the modern classroom and incorporate many tools like projectors and document cameras while offering many additional options.

Non-technology Options:

I also recommend looking into STEAM options that might not require technology but are engaging such as 3DuxDesign.  This product has something for everyone, grades PreK-12.  They also offer lots of lesson resources to use with the product.

Open-ended and Versatile Are Key!

I am linking to an article that will give some general guidelines to consider in addition to the things that I have mentioned here.  The article is titled How To Figure Out What You Really NEED To Buy For Your Classroom.  Be sure to purchase items that allow you to get the most for your money.  These items should be open-ended and versatile. If you’re buying materials, they should be things that you can use over and over again.  Avoid one time use purchases.  This is one reason that we recommend working with your administrators to purchase items that can be used schoolwide, such as VR Headsets.  These are items you don’t use daily and work well on a checkout system.  That allows all students in the building to benefit from them and keeps costs down.

I hope you find this article helpful as you make your financial decisions this year.  Please comment below and let us know what your go to classroom supplies are.  Our goal is to help educators make purchasing decisions that are productive!  Happy teaching and spending!

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About the Author: Alicia Verweij

Alicia is a seasoned educator that is passionate about teaching children to think critically, problem-solve, and function in an ever-changing digital world so that they will be prepared for future careers. She’s an active supporter of new educators and is known as an innovator in STEAM education. As a teaching veteran of more than 12 years, she holds a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, a B.S. in Business Management, an Alternate Route Education Certification, and an endorsement in Gifted Education. She is an educational influencer, founder, and consultant at EDGEucating LLC.

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