Footing The Bill For School Supplies
Jasmine Lauer, an English teacher at Sanderson High School, says she spends up to $200 of her own money on school supplies each semester.
If North Carolina still had an annual tax-free weekend, Lauer could keep about $27 of that. It might not sound like much, but Lauer said every dollar adds up, especially as schools depend more on teachers and parents to buy tissues, dry-erase markers and glue sticks.
“Schools are struggling to pay for expenses and hard-pressed to provide the necessary supplies,” said Lauer, who has been teaching for 17 years. “In general, classrooms have fewer things unless parents provide them.”
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.
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 falls far short of the allotment given before the recession: $83 million in 2007-08. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $96.5 million today.
Meanwhile, the Wake County school board is considering cutting the local budget for instructional supplies 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 – items they hope parents will donate.
“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.
Families with children in K-12 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 public school teachers by Agile Education Marketing and SheerID, a teacher verification provider.
Those 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.
The elimination of the tax-free shopping weekend was part of a tax overhaul approved by the Republican-led General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013. The legislation included 48 tax breaks, including cuts to corporate and personal income taxes.
North Carolina lost an estimated $13.4 million in tax revenue that year during the tax holiday, according to N.C. Department of Revenue estimates.
Conservative leaders say the change helps families.
“They’re seeing the tax savings throughout the year instead of over one weekend,” said Rep. Jeff Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican who is an art teacher at an elementary and middle school.
Elmore said he spends his own money on supplies for his students, including specialized art materials. Deciding how much to spend is “an issue for all teachers,” he said.
The state’s spending on supplies is inadequate, said Rep. Rosa Gill, a Wake County Democrat who once taught math at Enloe and Garner high schools.
“This does not send a message that we want our kids to be well-educated,” Gill said.
Without a tax-free weekend, stores have more incentive to lower prices to compete, said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican who has been an architect of the state’s tax policies.
“The consumer wins on both sides, which is exactly what we were trying to do (with the legislation),” Rucho said.
At least 17 states, including South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, offer sales-tax holidays.
Benton said he was surprised when North Carolina stopped doing so.
“This cut impacted middle-class families more than any other increase or decrease the state has made in tax policy,” Benton said.
As educators and parents face a budget crunch, some are turning to crowdfunding platforms to raise money. The idea is to share classroom needs on online sites and encourage people to donate.
Six teachers at Dillard Drive Middle School in Raleigh are raising money through DonorsChoose.org, a nonprofit that accepts direct donations online for school projects.
Tomita Ferguson, a Dillard Drive teacher, is raising money for notebooks, glue sticks, construction paper and other supplies. She set a goal of $422.
“My students come from various neighborhoods around the Raleigh area that is considered under privileged,” Ferguson wrote on the website. “Sometimes my students are helping their families earn extra money, they help with babysitting right after school up until midnight, and for some are the heads of their household. ...
“I want my students not to have to think about supplies that they need for school,” she wrote.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
Here is a school-supply list for Smith Elementary School in Raleigh found on teacherlists.com.
▪ 1 1/2-inch binders and three-ring binders
▪ wide-ruled composition notebook
▪ orange, purple, green and yellow plastic pocket folders
▪ 24-pack of No. 2 yellow pencils
▪ pencil sharpeners
▪ pencil bag/pouch
▪ colored pencils
▪ wide-ruled filler paper
▪ blue or black pens
▪ dry-erase markers
▪ glue sticks
▪ sticky notes
▪ index cards
Optional items include disinfectant wipes, Ziploc bags, color copy paper, hand sanitizer, rubber cement, empty 2-liter bottles, additional dry-erase markers, colored pencils and markers.