Teachers' salaries have never been anything for our society to brag about, but the financial sacrifices are bigger than many suspect. According to a study provided to TIME by the research firm Quality Education Data, a division of Scholastic, U.S. elementary school teachers spend more than $1 billion a year of their own money on supplies for their classrooms. The average teacher's personal contribution is a surprising $521 annually, 35% more than what the school provides them with to buy such things as paperbacks, software, instructional posters and art supplies. Teachers, with an average salary of $42,000, say what they need most is materials for at-risk students, like books for a fifth-grader who reads at a first-grade level or posters for students who aren't proficient in English. Those who spend the most, first-year teachers ($701 a year), are also the lowest paid: the newcomers are building a collection of supplies they will have throughout their careers. Some relief may be in sight: in his budget proposal President Bush included a tax deduction of up to $400 for teachers paying classroom expenses out of pocket. The measure must still be approved by Congress. Until then, teachers will continue to foot the bill. "This profession attracts a special breed," says Jeanne Hayes, of QED. "Obviously, they're not in it for the money."
--By Rebecca Winters