It is true that after adjusting for inflation and enrollment North Carolina classrooms are getting 53% less for classroom supplies than they were 10 years ago. Teachers and families are desperately trying to provide pencils and paper out of their own pockets. Why is the General Assembly treating these items like luxuries?
When an Oklahoma public school teacher took to the streets and started panhandling for school supplies, I was not shocked. Some who want to turn a blind eye to the issue just scoffed at her “antics,” but I wanted to track her down and offer a big hug. After all, there are times when as a public school teacher, I feel like a beggar, too.
This is what cuts in school funding for classroom supplies do to teachers: They turn us into last-resort scroungers.
Because state lawmakers don’t care enough about public schools to adequately fund classroom materials, public school teachers like me are forced to deplete our own modest incomes in order to create a welcoming, safe and exciting learning environment for the children we teach and love so much. Adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth, North Carolina spends about half as much per student on classroom supplies as it did before the Great Recession began in 2008.
This huge loss continues even after the economy is back on its feet and state lawmakers park more than $1.6 billion in a rainy day fund. But in our classrooms, it continues to rain. We don’t have the supplies we need, and the state is forcing school systems to ask parents and teachers to pay for basic materials that should be the responsibility of the state budget. Some parents simply cannot afford to pay for everything on their children’s ever-growing supply list, and our state lawmakers just keep cutting taxes for corporations. The burden to educate our state’s next generation is falling increasingly on those who cannot afford it.
Last year, I spent about $1,200 on supplies, student needs and field trip scholarships. These expenses included basic school supplies, such as pencils, erasers, loose-leaf paper, notebooks, binders, construction paper, glue, markers, folders, tissues and sanitizers. These are obvious needs that should be supplied in satisfactory amounts to teachers by funding included in the state budget for school systems.
It is true that schools do offer many of these items, but it is often only enough to get through the first couple of months of school. When January comes around, teachers are often left in the lurch — expected to purchase these supplies on their own.
By the way, that $1,200 figure does not include times when I have paid for a child’s family’s groceries, bought a child socks or gym clothes, or paid utility bills when the threat of losing water or electricity is imminent. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, that statement could not ring more true to educators.
We teachers often ask ourselves, when should I stop providing for a student? Do I only help them for matters related to my class? If teachers adopted that mindset, we would have even fewer thriving students in our schools today.While our state’s economy has largely recovered over the past few years, our schools are living in a permanent recession thanks to politicians who do not value public education. And when lawmakers gut classroom spending over time, as the Republican majority has done in North Carolina, the real losers will always be the students.
When teachers scramble for basic supplies, students miss a focused educator who is not chronically stressing on how to meet the needs of learners. When a school is not able to provide the tools that are required for learning to take place, student scores suffer. When a student sees teachers floundering to find enough scissors or markers for a project, their opinion of that teacher and school dwindles.
There is an old idiom that I heard frequently growing up: “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.” That simply means you can’t get something from a person that he or she does not already have. That is what legislators ask educators to do. Our state lawmakers want public school teachers to act as miracle workers without providing the basic tools needed to give every child the opportunities they deserve.