SPRINGFIELD - Gail Garner taught science and math for 23 years, and said he became ?good friends? with Kmart during that time because he bought so many items with his own money for use in experiments in his classroom.
Now, as principal of Southwest Elementary School in Vermilion County, he sees his teachers doing the same.
?That's just kind of a way of life.?
First-year teachers are hit particularly hard, because they are buying bulletin board materials and things to make the room nice, along with rewards for students and items for class projects while at the same time paying off student loans and setting up housekeeping on a rookie's salary.
?It can prove to be a challenge,? Garner said. ?The younger you are, the more of a strain it is.?
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, introduced a bill in the General Assembly this week that would grant teachers a state income tax credit of up to $200 a year for classroom instructional materials they buy out of their own pockets.
?I think many teachers spend their own money, and that's unfair, but because of limited resources, they have to if they want those materials,? Jakobsson said.
George King, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, said it is not unusual for teachers to spend $700, $800 and more a year of their own money for classroom supplies.
?Absolutely, it's very common and a sad commentary on lack of resources at the school district and building level,? King said. ?Most teachers we know of and talk to spend way more than $200; certainly in many cases $1,000 is not unusual.?
King said the problem is symptomatic of a larger school funding crisis that the state needs to address.
?But until that time comes, moves like this will help take the sting out of spending one's own money to support one's own teaching activities,? he said.
Gail Purkey, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the organization is not taking a position on the bill until it can find out what the impact will be on the state budget.
?There is a worthwhile aspect to this, but we are concerned,? Purkey said. ?We don't know what this would do to the state coffers. In an ideal world, teachers would not have to do this out of their own pocket, but it is not an ideal world.?
Jakobsson's bill is scheduled to be heard in a House revenue subcommittee Thursday morning.
While governor Blagojevich has said he does not plan on raising taxes to fill the estimated $5 billion hole in the budget, any kind of tax break legislation will be a tough sell this year.
Teachers will get a break on their federal tax returns. According to The Associated Press, teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools can subtract up to $250 of qualified classroom expenses when figuring their adjusted gross income.