Classroom Budget: Good for Kids & Teachers

If you ever want to see a REALLY happy teacher, give her some money to spend on her students. When I found out that I would have a monthly budget in my current position, I nearly danced a jig in the street. In this school-funding drought, it’s rare for teachers to have a classroom budget. After a few months seeing how this has benefited my classroom and students, I’m completely convinced: Every teacher deserves a classroom budget. Here are two reasons why:

First, a classroom budget empowers teachers and treats them like instructional experts. Good teachers know what their students need—and a really good teacher always needs something because that’s what makes a good lesson into a great lesson. Funding these something extras is not easy. Two common options are Donors Choose and school organizations like student council or PTSA. Donors Choose is a wonderful option, but funding projects takes time and cannot be guaranteed. School organizations have complex procedures and timelines that can take weeks for approval and funding. In most cases, teachers reach into their own pockets to fund the wonderful learning experiences they desire for their students. (You can find many stories on this blog of teachers explaining why they do this with love.) Despite this common practice, I think that spending our own money is flat out demoralizing for teachers. But we can’t help it because we know the little something extra will make all the difference. I think that teachers deserve a classroom budget so they can have a voice in how they cultivate learning experiences in their classroom–without having to empty their own pockets.

Second, a classroom budget is good for kids. Students are individuals with their own interests and motivations. A classroom budget enables teachers to personalize and enrich the curriculum for students. It’s simply impossible for any boxed curriculum to offer everything a teacher could need because every group of students is unique. A teacher can use her classroom budget to purchase valuable materials that complement her teaching style and the needs of her students. This could decrease waste when materials are left on shelves because they aren’t meaningful to the teacher or students. Further, a classroom budget gives teachers more time to spend on instruction by decreasing the time spent trying to acquire the things they need. A classroom budget is good for kids because it gives their teacher—the expert of their learning—the opportunity to influence the materials used for the learning journey. When exciting interests arise in the classroom, the teacher has the opportunity to maximize and extend the learning with the necessary materials while the students are still interested. This keeps learning authentic for kids.

For me personally, our classroom budget has dramatically increased learning in my classroom this year. Most importantly, it has energized my creativity because I’m constantly thinking about what would make my room better or enrich our next unit. I make these decisions really carefully since our budget is limited, but it’s the most empowering and rewarding feeling to see how my decisions affect kids in their learning. I think we should be searching for ways to empower teachers and make learning great for kids. Perhaps the classroom budget solution could be one small step that could potentially increase teacher retention and student learning for schools in our state.

How does/would a classroom budget improve your teaching and job satisfaction?

Note: For anyone who is wondering what magical rainbow land of teaching gives teachers a classroom budget, I should clarify that my monthly budget is funded through our “peer model” tuition program for typical preschool students who attend alongside special education peers in my developmental preschool class. The budget is necessary so that I can purchase snacks for the kids as well as sustain other aspects of my program including furniture, art supplies, playground equipment, and anything else we need. It’s not always dreamy! Sometimes, it’s challenging to make the budget work. But the freedom to have a voice has been worth the challenge so far in my experience.  


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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