When public schools opened earlier this month, classroom supply cabinets were well stocked.
It wasn’t because of some great windfall of tax dollars. Rather, it was the willingness of teachers and parents to dig deeper into their own pockets for the common good – general classroom supplies. Hand sanitizers, tissue boxes, and paper towels, for example, along with the usual stash of crayons, pencils, pens and paper fill these cabinets.
It’s a given that classroom supplies will be fronted by teachers and the parents. A nationwide survey of 800 teachers for the National School Supply and Equipment Association (www.nssea.org) found that teachers annually spend $1.6 billion of their own money on classroom supplies. On average, teachers said they spent $485 of their own money on school supplies, instructional materials and other classroom materials during the 2012-2013 school year. Ten percent said they annually spend $1,000 or more out of their own pockets.
Another finding was that 25 percent of teachers surveyed required parents to purchase general classroom supplies but that was down from 47 percent surveyed in recent years. There did not seem to be an explanation of the drop.
Since 1998, Florida has allocated a public school teacher stipend for classroom supplies and materials. This year, the Florida Teachers Classroom Supply Assistance Program will provide up to $250 per teacher. Gov. Rick Scott initiated a debit card for teachers for that amount to ease the process. But the Tampa Bay Times reported last week that only seven districts out of 67 had enrolled – Miami-Dade, Orange, Hamilton, Hendry, Jefferson, Lafayette and Levy.
But that’s not to say other districts’ teachers won’t see the money. Most districts for years have provided the state funding directly to teachers by check. Districts also are concerned that the state debit system doesn’t take effect until late September, six weeks after most schools opened. We look for improvements in the system next year.
Community response to the classroom supply dilemma is growing. Civic groups and businesses organize drives for students in need and teachers. Tax dollars will only stretch so far.
Margo C. Pope is a former opinion editor of The St. Augustine Record.