NC Repub­li­cans’ school sup­plies sham

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

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.

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