Teachers Paying For Supplies

At a bookstore in Albany, New York, Laurie Cohn shops for back-to-school basics. Her buys: story books, colored pencils, erasers. The total: $97.03.

But these supplies aren't bound for the Cohn kids at home.

Cohn teaches English as a Second Language at an Albany public school, and when it comes to even the most basic supplies, she is forced to overcome budget shortfalls with her own money.

She's not alone. The nation's largest teachers union says 94 percent of America's teachers dig into their own wallets to buy school supplies, spending a nationwide average of $400 a year.

Cohn, whose annual salary is $40,000, spends up to 5 percent of her income on supplies for her students. She says the extra expenses come with the territory. "I don't even think about it," she says.

Though Cohn remains upbeat about her profession, high out-of-pocket expenses may have something to do with the nationwide teacher shortage, says Thomas Hatch of the non-profit Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

"Why do people want to go into a place where they've got to spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars over the course of their career," Hatch says. "Money they could be spending on rent, on mortgages, on retirement savings?"

It's not likely to get better soon, says Albany City School District Superintendent Lonnie E. Palmer. In his district, like many, teacher expenses are no match for an ever-growing menu of special needs programs, he says.

"Most of the money that comes our way from state or federal government comes with strings attached," Palmer says. "It doesn’t say, 'Give this money to Ms. Smith who’s been purchasing extra supplies for her math class.'"

That's not the case everywhere. In South Carolina, the state is offering $100 reimbursements to teachers for the first time. It doesn't cover all expenses, which average $200 and $500, according to the South Carolina Education Association, but it helps. The state is considering doubling the amount to $200 next year.

Susan Brant, a high school geometry teacher in Columbia, S.C., said she's already used her $100 for posters, paper and decorative items for her classroom. "Every year we agonize over what we can afford for the classroom," she said. "This money has made it so much easier."

CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report