Parents, if you’re finding back-to-school shopping a bit of a chore, consider this sad trend: Your kids’ teachers are taking more money than ever out of their own pockets to pay for the classroom supplies, instructional materials, and professional development they need.

To ensure they have the tools required to do their jobs for your offspring, those educators are laying out an average of $652 apiece, according to a new survey of 538 U.S. K-12 teachers from SheerID and Agile Education Marketing. That's the highest total in the five-year history of the survey, and a 39% increase over last year.

In total, for America's 3.4 million K-12 teachers, that adds up to about $2.2 billion.

"As school budgets tighten and classroom needs become more sophisticated, educators are feeling mounting pressure to spend their own money," said Jake Weatherly, CEO of SheerID in a press release.

A teacher helps a young student.

Teachers are spending a significantly more of their own money to ensure their students have the supplies they need. Image source: Getty Images.

Retail can help (and help itself)

While the economic and political forces that are driving this trend are beyond the control of any given retailer to move, many are (wisely) reacting to it. A vast majority of teachers surveyed -- 88% -- said they choose to direct their out-of-pocket spending toward retailers that offer  deals specifically for educators. That provides an opportunity for businesses to both do the right thing and draw in extra customer traffic.

"It is now more important than ever for retailers to offer relief," Weatherly said. "Gated, exclusive offer programs are serving as a welcome strategy for consumers and retailers alike, creating an appealing incentive that honors teachers' service and helps them save money, while supporting brands by lowering acquisition costs and driving loyalty."

Based on this survey, the vast majority of teachers (88%) are actively looking for educator-specific discounts. In particular, they have come to prefer retailers that offer those deals online. Among their favorite offers: free shipping (90%), extra discounts on a single products (87%), and "everyday" discounts, rather than just savings during the back-to-school period (80%).

This year, Amazon took the top spot on the list of retailers where teachers were shopping for classroom supplies, after coming in fourth in 2017. The online leader was followed by Michaels, Barnes & Noble, Staples, and Office Depot -- all of which offer discounts for educators.

Catering to teachers is a strategy that can clearly pay dividends. For example, Barnes & Noble has made reaching educators a priority, and this year, it ranked fourth on the top-shopped-retailer list -- which it did not make at all last year.

Marketing to teachers can have a desirable ripple effect for retailers. According to the survey, 80% of teachers said they learned about a deal from another educator. That put communication with peers ahead of both social media (58%) and family (52%) as their top source of information about bargains.

So when a company reaches one teacher, it has a chance to reach many more, if it's offering strong enough deals. And that could win them not just short-term business, but longer-term customer loyalty.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.