Teachers get flack for being smart about district budget cuts

When the times get tough, it's time to get creative. When administrators slashed his school's supply budget, California Calculus teacher Tom Farber found himself in a bind. All of his quizzes, tests, and exams added up to $500 in copying expenses -- almost $200 over his allotted paper budget.

A "cool" teacher might have forgotten about tests, but a good one would find a way to give his students the practice they'd need to prepare for their Advanced Placement exams at the year's end. Instead of dropping tests, Farber started soliciting sponsors. He sold ads on test papers for $10-$30, depending on the size of the test, and soon he had his copying expenses covered.

The educator's innovative solution has not been without controversy. While most of the sponsorships are simply inspirational messages paid for by parents, about a third of them come from local businesses. Some are worried that this could spark an over-commercialization of schools, but Farber says it's just a logical solution. "We're expected to do more with less," he says. For most teachers, that means paying for over-budget expenses out of pocket -- to the tune of about $430 per year, according to the National Education Association.
I don't see why Farber's approach would be controversial. It's hardly fair to expect teachers -- arguably America's most underpaid professionals -- to spend their own money on fundamentally necessary supplies, and it's not like schools haven't welcomed child-directed marketing in plenty of other arenas already.

I remember sitting through 15-minute Channel One News broadcasts every day at school, half of which time was dedicated to acne medication advertisements, because the school had a deal with the news program wherein we got free televisions in every classroom as long as the school showed the program each day. No one raised a stink about that. In addition to the daily dose of acne ads from Channel One, I spent most of my school days carrying around boxes of candy that I was expected to sell to raise money for one department or another.

The bottom line is that schools don't have enough money, ever. Farber's test-sponsorship idea is creative and harmless, and inconveniences no one (unlike Channel One, which stole 15 minutes of our education time each day, or selling candy, which was a giant pain and just encouraged poor nutrition). And let's give these calculus students a little credit, please. They are high school upperclassmen -- practically adults. If they can't handle a line or two of advertising messages, how can we expect them to handle life after high school? Don't we have better things to complain about than a teacher who is willing to go the extra mile to do his job well?

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