In the weeks leading up to the first school bell, the 'Tools4Schools' store is filled with teachers.
Excited chatter fills the free classroom supply store as Wake County educators stock up on needed supplies.
"This right here is probably over 50 bucks that I would be spending in this store," said Kindergarten teacher Carla Matthews as she pointed to her basket full of organizational supplies.
It's estimated that teachers spend $500 out-of-pocket on classroom supplies a year.
Matthews said that the estimate was accurate for her. She said without spending her own money she wouldn't feel prepared.
"It just gives you more confidence in the classroom. I want to do things a certain way. As far as procedure and so forth. It just makes it easier when you have the things you need," she said.
Keith Poston is the president of the WakeEd Partnership; the nonprofit that runs 'Tools4 Schools.' He said based on surveys they've done, Wake County teachers spend closer to $900 a year on supplies.
"So you're taking that out of your own family's money to put into your classroom. That's what teachers do," Poston said. "We thought this would be an opportunity so that our teachers who don't make enough anyway would have to also go out and buy stuff for their classroom,"
Since 'Tools4Schools' opened in January 2022, the store has grown to provide more than 4,000 teachers with $340,000 worth of materials.
"It just always just kind of blew my mind that they had to go out and buy all their basic supplies out of their own pockets for the classroom. Shouldn't the state provide that? Well, yeah, they should provide that, but they don't they don't provide enough," Poston said.
North Carolina allocated $47 million for classroom supplies and materials last year; an amount that equates to around $30 per student. This funding has increased by $1.6 per student in the last ten years.
"It only works out to be like a couple of hundred bucks per teacher. And again, they need a lot more than that," Poston said.
The I-Team found the state funds for classroom supplies are pretty evenly distributed between public school districts with districts receiving between $33-$30 per student.
Back in 2008-09 the state provided doubled the amount of funding for classroom supplies. The state budget from 2008-09 allocated $87.4 million for supplies or nearly $60 per student.
In addition to state funding, federal and local dollars also contribute. Last year, Wake County allocated $55 million for school and office supplies. This is around $115 more per student than a decade ago. Most of that increase stems from an uptick in federal funding.
Durham County Public Schools don't break down their supply funding by 'school and office supplies.' The district allocated $49.7 million for supplies and materials last year or $1,600 per student. That total includes everything from textbooks to custodial supplies to fuel to tires. DPS's budget for all supplies and materials has increased by $278 per student.
While money does exist, education advocates say more is needed, especially since not all districts can allocate as much as others.
"We have some schools that have their own private foundations. They get more money than they can possibly spend. And then we have other schools that don't get anything. And so it really is we're trying to fill the gap for the schools and the students and the teachers that need us the most," Poston said.
Even when funding exists, teachers are often not receiving a stipend for supplies that are needed but aren't supplied. This makes nonprofits and other organizations that are able to assist families and teachers that much more needed.
'Tools4Schools' plans to be opened throughout the school year and accepts donations from the community.