Third grade teacher Jason Bui had to spend $200 of his own money just to get his students started this September.
"You used to get some pencils, maybe some glue sticks, some construction paper," said the teacher at Philadelphia's S. Weir Mitchell Elementary. "I got zero this year."
In West Haven, Conn., fifth grade teacher Donna Pitts was better off when school started at the May V. Carrigan Intermediate School -- but not by much.
"Usually the district provides $100 to $150 for supplies. Some years it is less, some years it might be a little more," Pitts said. "But for the most part that buys folders, pencils, crayons, basics. It doesn't go as far as the creative mind of a teacher would go."
According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, teachers spend nearly $1,000 of their own money, per year, on various items needed for the classroom. They buy extra educational games, books and often basic supplies for students whose parents can't afford them.
However, teachers across the country are starting to keep more of their hard-earned money, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
"I can't even begin to describe how much better off my classroom is based on what I've gained from DonorsChoose." Pitts said.
Thousands of teachers across the country, including Pitts and Bui, have discovered DonorsChoose.org, a website where teachers create project lists for items they need and donors, usually anonymous, pay for them.
"A lot of the classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org show school systems that are falling short and not doing right by their students and budget cuts are exacerbating that," said DonorsChoose.org CEO Charles Best. "We see teachers requesting materials that you can't imagine any classroom going without."
Best, a former high school teacher in the Bronx, started the website in 2000 after urging his colleagues to list their needs on-line. It took off after Best told a little white lie about a mysterious benefactor.
"I donated anonymously to my colleagues' projects. Because my colleagues didn't know that it was me, they thought that the website actually worked and that there were all these donors just waiting on the site, hoping to fulfill teachers classroom dreams," Best confessed.
"That rumor spread across the Bronx. Teachers started posting hundreds of projects, projects that needed a whole lot more money than what I could afford ... and we were off."
Since the year 2000, Donorschoose.org has raised more than $190 million dollars through a mix of private donors and corporate sponsorships.
Cities across the country are following that lead. Last month,Philadelphia launched the "Philadelphia Education Supplies Fund," a multi-year fundraising effort to provide additional money to all district-managed schools for supplemental classroom supplies. Chicago has a similar program.
Charles Best would like to see programs like that succeed. "We wouldlove to be put out of business when it comes to the 50 percent of projects on our site which request really basic materials like books and dictionaries and paintbrushes," he said. "But, we see a continued role for DonorsChoose.org enabling teachers to innovate, projects thatgo beyond the mandated curriculum, projects that bring learning to life."
Teachers like Jason Bui and Donna Pitts would like that, too. But if not, they'll dip back into their own pockets.
"We don't go into it for the money," Pitts said. "We go into it to make a difference. If you can make a difference in a child's life, then you know that you've done your job."