Parents, teachers: NC state spending not meeting needs for school supplies

EducationLast week, we shared an op-ed from a Wake County teacher bemoaning the increasing financial burden for North Carolina teachers who, lacking proper funding from the state, oftentimes spend their own cash to provide for their pupils.

Today, The News & Observer is wading into the issue for parents and teachers as many students prepare to return to schools in the state.

From the N&O:

The General Assembly voted in 2013 to eliminate the three-day tax-free weekend that allowed shoppers to save on state and local sales taxes the first weekend of August. Since that program began in 2002, many families had taken advantage of the weekend to shop for clothes, computers and school supplies.

Now some people say they are feeling the burden of stocking up for a new school year, especially as students use more high-priced technology gadgets.

The legislature increased funding for school supplies and classroom materials this year by nearly $3 million, to about $47 million. That equals $30.05 per public school student.

But the funding still falls far short of the allotment given before the recession. In 2007-08, the state earmarked $83 million for supplies and materials.

As the paper explains, the gap is ill-timed, particularly in places like Wake County, home of the state’s largest public school system.

Meanwhile, the Wake County school board is considering cutting the local instructional supplies budget by $3.04 per student in the coming year to help close a $17.5 million budget gap. The cut would save $481,000.

“When we look at the amount of money per student, we are still behind the 2008 level,” said Wake County school board chairman Tom Benton. “The money from the state government has not kept pace with the growing student population.”

On Tuesday, the school board is expected to discuss proposed spending cuts, including a controversial plan to clean schools one fewer day a week.

Karen Taylor, whose daughter is a seventh-grader at Lufkin Road Middle School in Apex, said she typically spends more than $100 on school supplies a year.

Teachers often require specific items, such as five-subject spiral-bound notebooks and USB flash drives, Taylor said. If parents can’t afford them, students often go without.

Some teachers also create wish lists of items such as tissues and pencils.

“Schools are struggling to pay for expenses and hard-pressed to provide the necessary supplies,” Taylor said. “In general, classrooms have fewer things unless parents provide them.”

Taylor said her family is fortunate they can afford clothes, shoes, backpacks and supplies.

“Those savings are real differences for people,” Taylor said of the old tax-free weekend. “It could create a burden for parents who can’t afford school supplies.”

Families will spend an average of $673.57 on back-to-school expenses this year, up from $630 last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Teachers in the United States spent an average of nearly $500 of their personal money on school supplies during the 2014-15 school year, according to a survey of more than 500 K-12 teachers by Agile Education Marketing and SheerID, a teacher verification provider.

Teachers received an average of $300 from their schools to spend on classroom materials, the survey said.

“The cost of education has been passed on to educators and parents, instead of students receiving a free public education,” Lauer said.

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