How much is too much to spend on gifts for the teacher?

How much is too much to spend on gifts for teachers?

Parents can agonize this time of year about what to give their kids’ teachers.

“Because you don’t know what everyone else is giving,” says Kim Egan, a mother of two in Santa Monica, Calif. “You don’t want to under-give. You don’t want to over-give.”

This year Egan opted to pool her money with other parents. She gave $50 for each of her two kids. Her daughter is also making a doll to give. Pretty modest next to some gifts reported in Anchorage, Alaska.

“There are some that are relatively outrageous,” says Todd Hess, chief human resources officer at Anchorage School District. “From plane tickets to Hawaii, to a fur coat, to diamond jewelry.”

Perks like that are rare, says Hess, but the district is mulling a ban on gifts worth more than $50. Thursday night the school board in Arlington County, Va., voted to limit gifts to employees to $100 per family, per year.

At Boulder Valley Schools in Colorado, the cap is $25 per gift. Chief financial officer Leslie Stafford says that’s to avoid any appearance of a bribe.

“Possibly a parent wanting to influence a student’s grade,” she says. “By keeping it small, we just get rid of any of those questions.”

Such policies also protect kids and parents who can’t afford a big gift from feeling awkward about it. For parents who really want to give more, Stafford suggests donating books to the school library.

Former teacher Clare Golding, now a stay-at-home parent of two in Raleigh, N.C., suggests giving school supplies.

“Teachers spend so much of their own money on their classroom,” she says.

One thing she has stopped recommending -- Starbucks gift cards.

“Everybody does it,” she says, “and I have had teacher friends of mine go, ‘I couldn’t drink all this coffee in a year if I tried.’”

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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