Teacher Spending Accounts? Giving teachers a say in education funding decisions

When I was teaching, I was given an annual classroom budget of $200 for classroom supplies. Like many teachers then — and still today — I had to spend my own money to cover additional classroom expenses.

What if those out-of-pocket costs could be alleviated? What if teachers, “the most important in-school factor for student success,” had more say in education funding decisions?

Enter Teacher Spending Accounts (TSAs), which prioritize individual teacher autonomy and expertise on tailoring that “last mile” of education spending for the greatest impact, writes American Enterprise Institute’s Patrick Graff.

[TSAs] are state-funded accounts for K-12 teachers that are designed to be used for classroom supplies and educational expenses such as instructional materials, technology, teacher coaching, and professional development.

Funded with a base amount of $1,000, these accounts could be additionally weighted based on classroom or teacher need (e.g., students in poverty, special education, or first-year teachers). These accounts would be created at the state level as a general benefit available to every qualifying teacher in the state — regardless of whether they teach in a traditional public, charter, or private school.

Teachers, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly support TSAs. Being able to use the account for multiple uses for classroom and professional development purposes increases “teacher agency and flexibility to spend for their own needs, whether those be material, pedagogical, or technological,” continues Graff.


My first thought when reading about TSAs went right to funding. Under Graff’s proposal, TSAs could be funded by a mix of existing and new dollars: allocating approximately 1 percent of state education funding to teachers, “with new dollars appropriated to include charter and private school teachers.”

According to Graff, this then makes TSAs “effectively function as a substantial teacher pay raise (by offsetting high levels of teacher out-of-pocket spending) without the same spending increase a straight teacher pay raise would require.” And by shifting decisions about classroom supplies and professional development to teacher control, TSAs “are not just a teacher pay raise; they are also a fundamental reform to a system that is not serving teachers’ needs.”

Education freedom for teachers

There are many obvious ways the current system is failing our students, but it is also failing our teachers. “TSAs present an opportunity for education freedom advocates to support teacher quality in all schools while empowering educators and prioritizing their needs,” Graff concludes.

TSAs provide an alternative means to effectively increase teacher pay, direct more resources to the classroom level, increase funding for all classrooms serving lower-income students, promote teacher autonomy and choice in spending education dollars, and advocate for a new education funding paradigm.