NC Republicans’ school supplies sham
If you’re a regular observer of Republicans in Raleigh, you probably were wary when N.C. Superintendent Mark Johnson’s office previewed a “major education announcement” for Wednesday. Usually, with this GOP-led General Assembly, such announcements are too often either bad news for public school classrooms or promising news that isn’t backed up with proper funding.
This week, we got both. Flanked by Republican legislators, Johnson unveiled the North Carolina Classroom Supply Program, which would put $400 in the pockets of public school teachers in North Carolina for school supplies. No longer would teachers have to go through their schools and districts, which weren’t spending the school supply money as they should, said Republican Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory, sponsor of the Senate bill that would establish the program.
But the announcement, and the premise behind it, are a sham. The $400 for each teacher is not new money that might help prevent teachers dipping into their own bank accounts to supply their classrooms. It’s merely money that the state is taking away from school districts to give directly to educators. That move is built on a faulty assertion — that school systems are shorting teachers by using state money designated for supplies on other things.
In fact, school districts are spending far more on school supplies than the state gives them. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, received $4.6 million from the state for school supplies in 2017, said CMS official and former N.C. Rep Charles Jeter. CMS redirected that money into another category, which the state allows, so that the district could maximize its textbook purchasing power. CMS also spent more than $10 million of its own funds on school supplies. That’s more than double what the state gave the district.
Jeter says the numbers are similar for Wake County schools. The state gives Wake $4.9 million each year for school supplies. Wake spends about double that, in much the same way as Mecklenburg. To characterize it as shorting teachers on school supplies, as Wells did, is a falsehood.
The new school supply program, if passed, will be bad for classrooms in other ways. It will be run through a single vendor, ClassWallet, which provides individual teachers an online platform that allows them to buy supplies and account for those purchases. But the vendors on ClassWallet are limited, and teachers complain that the prices are higher than simply shopping on Amazon.
Jeter says the platform doesn’t allow for teachers to shop with colleagues for bulk purchasing, which most schools do now, and teachers aren’t allowed to transfer money to other teachers. Johnson says teachers will be able to pool supplies and shop outside the platform, but bulk purchasing would not be nearly as efficient, and the NC Classroom Supply Program still doesn’t do enough to distinguish between teachers who don’t need as many supplies with those who do.
Add it all up, and the bill is a bad deal for educators who already have too much trouble affording school supplies. It’s part of a pattern of Republicans proposing new education initiatives or grand education improvements, such as teacher pay, without paying for it properly. If Superintendent Johnson and other Republicans want to improve school supply funding, they could talk to school districts about why they’re forced to make accounting maneuvers to maximize their textbook purchasing. They could talk to teachers about the best way to help them meet their classroom needs.
Or, just maybe, they could simply give them more money for supplies.