This is precisely why Target is offering the discount, said Megan Roman, a company spokeswoman, in an email, citing the NCES report. “It’s a way for Target to acknowledge teachers are going the extra mile for their students.”
The fact that Target even thought to do this is indicative of the state of teaching in the United States today. The practice of teachers at underfunded schools paying out of pocket for school supplies is so common and well known at this point that a retail corporation has picked up on it as a socially beneficial revenue opportunity.
Target is hosting its “Teacher Prep Event” the summer after a school year marked by an uptick in teacher unrest. This past spring, public-school educators staged major walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona; teachers’ unions in many other states considered, or are considering, doing the same. Protesters and their supporters consistently cited the lack of basic school supplies—and the financial sacrifices educators make as a result—as one of their grievances. Striking teachers pointed to their reliance on online fund-raisers on platforms such as DonorsChoose, which allow individuals to donate directly to public-school platform projects.
The experience of Teresa Danks, a third-grade public-school teacher in Tulsa, shows just how tough things had become in Oklahoma, where in 2015, following a series of cuts, per-pupil spending was a little more than $8,000, compared with the national average of $11,400. In an April 2018 op-ed for NBC News, Danks explained that budget cuts over the years had led to her standing beside a highway with a sign asking motorists for donations. “I was tired of not having enough money for my classroom, of being expected to always use my limited cash reserves to pay to enrich my curriculum,” wrote Danks, who last year established the school-fund-raising foundation Begging for Education. Failing to allocate money for supplies, she argued, doesn’t only strip teachers of their personal cash, it can also have lasting academic consequences. “By forcing teachers to pay for students’ supplemental games, activities, art, and musical supplies, the state has taken away our ability to be creative,” Danks concluded.
The school-supply trend is one consequence of what the American Federation of Teachers—the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union—refers to in a new report as a “tide of austerity” that’s hit schools in the decade since the Great Recession. In 2016, the report found, 25 states were still providing less funding for K–12 schools than before the recession, after adjusting for inflation.
For the most part, policy makers acknowledge that schools need more funding, and that teachers make sacrifices to compensate for the shortfalls. But state budgets are stretched across the board, many argue, and that forces them to make tough decisions about budget allocations. Some policy makers worry that legislative efforts to address the school-supply issue by issuing stipends, as a bill in Arizona sought to do, are just quick fixes that conflate the problems of teacher pay and school funding.