Nebraska classrooms struggle with supplies, but a teacher decided to pay for things with her own money and asks others to help

Kylie Adolf understands how to effectively manage a second-grade classroom.

She needs jump ropes. Tissues. Colorful paper. Puzzles. A puzzle of a princess is usually a fantastic concept.

However, the second-grade teacher in Omaha cannot request these materials from her school and expect to discover them in her supply closet the following week. There are no funds allocated for that in the budget.

Instead, she spends her own money from the paycheck of her teacher. Instead, she posts on Facebook and solicits assistance from friends and strangers.

“My dream is to create a safe, functional space that kids know they are loved and cared for,” Adolf wrote to potential online donors.

Last school year, Adolf’s first year as a full-time educator, she spent an estimated $3,000 between her own funds and donations to equip her classroom.

That is not unusual. According to a recent poll, American teachers spent an average of $750 out of their own pockets, the majority of which was spent on basic school supplies.

“It is a little bit frustrating when I actually added up and really thought about all the money that was poured into making everything happen the past school year,” Adolf said.

Teachers in Nebraska are increasingly turning to local donors and parents for solutions.

On DonorsChoose, a crowdsourcing portal for public school teachers, hundreds of instructors in at least 66 different Nebraska towns have collectively requested more than $160,000 for classroom supplies for current school year as of August 10.

Alpaca, a for-profit firm, is providing school supplies to 700 teachers in Omaha and will continue to do so each month during the school year. Parents and other interested parties pay a subscription fee to fund a monthly gift basket for participating teachers.

“It makes me kind of crazy to think that a teacher who’s brand new out of college, has student loans to pay is paying $750 to $1,000 a year worth of supplies for their classroom,” said Alpaca founder Karen Borchert.

According to the National Education Association, Nebraska has the sixth lowest beginning compensation for teachers in the US, which is over $5,000 less than the national average for new teachers in the 2019-2020 school year.

Omaha Public Schools has announced that all full-time employees will receive a $4,500 stipend for the next two school years in response to an exodus of teachers.

“Coming out of college most of my first paycheck was paying for stuff for the classroom,” said Sarah Anderson, one of the first teachers to receive supplies from Alpaca last year at Western Hills Magnet Elementary School.

Kate Regler paid between $200 and $300 of her own money to set up her classroom prior to joining the Lincoln Public Schools. She stated that a $350 stipend and supplies given by Lincoln Public Schools currently meet the majority of her classroom needs.

“It’s hard for the brand-new teachers because they don’t get that right away,” Regler said.

According to LPS associate superintendent Liz Standish, the earliest a new teacher might get money from the district is the first week of September, two weeks after the first day of school.

The first shipment of the school year from Alpaca arrives on teachers’ desks before children enter classrooms.

Borchert said that she founded Alpaca for parents like herself who desire to assist teachers and schools on an ongoing basis but lack the time or resources to do so.

“I just wanted teachers to not be paying out of pocket for school supplies,” Borchert said.

Before beginning delivery at a school, Alpaca conducts a survey of its teachers to determine what they need and do not want in their monthly gifts.

This month, Borchert and the Alpaca team sent boxes including name-brand student rewards, disinfection wipes, dry erase markers, organized pouches, moisturizer, sharpie pens, and colorful card stock.

Anderson believed that her school supplied her with sufficient basic supplies, such as crayons and pencils. But Alpaca offers something unique.

“These guys bring giant sticky notes with cards and felt pens,” Anderson said. “That’s the stuff we crave.”

Although the Alpaca deliveries make primary school teachers like Anderson “do a little happy dance,” they are insufficient to completely supply a classroom.

“I don’t think a pack of supplies solves the problem,” Borchert said. “I think parents who are supportive and connected to their schools can solve the problem.”

The issue of teachers paying out of pocket is not new.

Sheri Paden taught for 34 years in Lincoln. She is now retired, but she vividly remembers not being able to meet her students’ financial requirements.

“Especially when I was in my early teaching days, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the money,” Paden said.

Paden stated that the supply load on teachers grows in Title 1 schools, which have a greater proportion of low-income children.

Historically, school districts serving predominantly pupils of color have gotten $2,266 less per student than school districts serving predominantly white students. According to DonorsChoose, teacher out-of-pocket expenses are 31% greater in schools serving predominantly pupils of color.

Nearly 40 percent of the 246 DonorsChoose campaigns for classrooms in Nebraska are for classrooms in schools with more than 50 percent Black, Latino, Native American, or multiracial children. These students are predominantly from low-income backgrounds.

Alpaca offers a subscription matching service to supply school materials to those whose parents may not be able to purchase subscriptions. However, their supply packets will not eliminate the necessity teachers have to purchase food and clothing for some kids.

Last year, approximately 90 percent of pupils at Bancroft Elementary, where Adolf taught, qualified for free and reduced lunches.

Adolf spent her own money on items like as cold weather gear for children whose families could not afford to replace lost hats and gloves. Omaha Public Schools funded her Bancroft classroom with vital materials.

“You definitely still find yourself supplementing with your own money,” Adolf said.

Like thousands of teachers, Anderson and Adolf now ask for supplies and donations through an Amazon wishlist every year.

“Teachers are desperate and broke,” Anderson said. “It’s not a great feeling to have to do that.”

Adolf has already received 45 items on his back-to-school Amazon wish list, items paid for by her family members, friends and complete strangers.

“You’d be surprised at how many people do appreciate teachers and know that, because of their salary, they don’t have the means to supply, maybe not the needs, but your goals,” Adolf said.

Still, that wish list can’t assist Adolf with unanticipated costs that will certainly spring up in her 2nd grade classroom this year at her new school, Pine Elementary, located just south of downtown Omaha.

Adolf learned last year that many of her second-grade students could not afford birthday treats for the class. So, on each second-grade student’s birthday, she purchased frosted cookies so that they could still celebrate.

The additional out-of-pocket expenses strain the second-grade teacher’s personal budget.

Adolf stated that pupils are more important than her financial account to her and many other instructors. The fundamental issue is that she must pick between the two options.

“I wanted them to know that they can come to school and an adult that sees them a lot and gets to know them really well over the course of the school year is going to make sure they’re taken care of,” she said.

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