Some North Carolina lawmakers want to give each teacher $400 to spend on classroom supplies by taking $37 million away from local school districts that they say hasn’t been properly spent.
Several influential Republican lawmakers and GOP State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Wednesday the creation of the N.C. Teacher Classroom Supply Program that would be funded by new legislation requiring school districts to transfer $400 to each teacher. If passed, educators would use the ClassWallet app to spend the money and to submit reimbursements for supplies they purchase.
“Giving teachers the maximum control over classroom supply funds is the ultimate local control,” Johnson said at a news conference. “Teachers can be nimble and they can use these funds to buy what they need, when they need it.”
The legislation comes at a time when teachers have complained that they aren’t getting enough money for classroom supplies, requiring them to spend money out of their own pockets. The legislation also comes at a time when the N.C. Association of Educators plans to hold a mass rally in Raleigh on May 1 that will bring thousands of teachers from across the state.
Sen. Andy Wells, a Catawba County Republican and primary sponsor of Senate Bill 580, said it’s been a mistake giving money for supplies to school district “bureaucrats” instead of directly to teachers.
“Bureaucrats used the money to pay for other things on their to-do list and left teachers to pay for their own classroom supplies,” Wells said.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the bill would leave school districts with about $10 million of the $47 million they get annually for classroom supplies. He said that remaining money would allow districts to cover any large purchases.
But Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Boards Association, said school districts can buy supplies cheaper than individual teachers. She said that since not all teachers need the same amount that districts are in a better position to cover the supply needs of those who might need more than $400.
“Individual teachers going out to Walmart, Staples or whatever they may buy supplies are not going to get the same pricing through bulk buying,” Winner said in an interview Wednesday. “You’re taking what are already scarce dollars and won’t be able to spread as far.”
Winner’s concerns were echoed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, which announced it’s opposed to the legislation
“We believe that by decentralizing the control of the spending, it will eliminate the economies of scale that a District has versus an individual teacher,” said Charles Jeter, a former state representative who now serves as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools government relations coordinator. “And since there is no new money in the bill, it will actually reduce the buying power of school districts and teachers and provide fewer supplies for the classroom than the current system does.
The lack of new state funding was a concern echoed by other critics.
“I’ll admit when I’m wrong,” Kris Nordstrom, education finance and policy consultant for the N.C. Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, tweeted Wednesday. “Earlier today, I gave the #NCGA the benefit of the doubt, thinking they were announcing an actual increase in funding for school supplies — an allotment they’ve cut 55% since the Recession.”
The new program is a “shell game,” according to NCAE president Mark Jewell. While Wells promoted Wednesday how much money the Republican-led legislature has provided in school funding, Jewell said the state is still spending below the national average per child.
“This is not adding additional funding,” Jewell said in an interview Wednesday. “This is just moving money around when schools are starving.”
ClassWallet won’t be paid by the state for the program, according to Johnson. He said ClassWallet will make its money from the agreements it has with the stores where the supplies are purchased.
ClassWallet has been used by others states, such as Florida and New Mexico, for teachers to purchase school supplies. The legislation includes monitoring for how the money is spent, but there could still be problems with fraud and other issues with the program.
“It is time for us to be bold in our actions for supporting teachers in the classroom,” Johnson said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.
“So I fully expect that when this rolls out at the start of the school year we will run across issues. But a few issues are absolutely worth the benefit that it will bring to teachers across the state.”
It’s unclear how much support the program has among teachers. Johnson said that teachers have wanted a program like this for years.
North Carolina Teacher of the Year Lisa Godwin had been announced ahead of time as being one of the guests at Wednesday’s news conference. But in a Facebook post Tuesday night, Godwin said that after much prayer and consideration she decided not to be part of the announcement.
Godwin told EducationNC in an interview that while the $400 sounds good on the surface, the plan could hurt teachers and school districts.
“But $400 is not going to go very far, and my fear was that a district would say well you got $400, we don’t have the money to buy bulletin board paper or copy paper, you know toner for the computers and things like that,” Godwin told EducationNC. “In the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t sound like it was going to be the right choice for teachers.”