Coronavirus Outbreak Has Caused Teachers To Pay Out Of Pocket For Cleaning Supplies

Supermajority Education Fund

March 16, 2020

A new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reveals that many teachers across the United States have been paying out of their own pockets for cleaning supplies to disinfect their classrooms since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. These purchases — which include items like hand sanitizer, wipes, and paper towels — are on top of the average of $459 of their own money American teachers already spend on classroom materials for their students each year.

According to guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, teachers and school staffers should “clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects in the classroom.” To follow those guidelines, many teachers buy supplies before knowing they will be reimbursed.

“It becomes an expense, because the district doesn’t give us wipes or sanitizer for our classrooms,” one teacher told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s just a worry — what’s the plan and how are we going to be safe?”

As cases and exposure to COVID-19 continue to increase across the country, many school districts in at least 29 states — including New York City, the largest school district in the country with over 1 million students — have decided to close at least until early April. The closures come in the wake of many teachers and teachers unions arguing that the conditions in many public schools are becoming increasingly unsafe for both educators and students — and some teachers, like those in New York City, even threatening to walk out (or, as they called it, hold a “sickout”). 

ECI economist Emma García told Supermajority News that the fact that teachers — both in districts that have temporary closed and those that remain open — are stepping in to provide schools with essential supplies highlights the gaps in American education funding. “It’s an emergency situation. Teachers are not going to wait until they get money for their supplies because they have to act,” she said. “As first respondents to any crisis a kid goes to school with, they do that on a regular basis.”

García notes that an average of 92 percent of teachers say they are not paid back for the majority of their classroom expenses. “This is not something the teachers should be expected to do,” said García. “The only way to fix this is to actually fix the system that allows that to happen,” she added, noting that local, state, and federal governments need to increase their budgets for classroom materials and other essential supplies. Until then, García says, teachers will likely continue to fill in funding gaps on their own, which ultimately detracts from the economy. 

“It’s money teachers could be using on themselves, on their families or on their savings,” García said. “Instead, they are using it to buy stuff for our kids.”