Helping teachers pay for classroom supplies

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature have filed legislation that would give school teachers more money to purchase supplies for their classroom. The bill would increase the amount each local education agency and public charter school must pay K-12 teachers for the purchase of supplies from $200 to $500 beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
The money must be used for instructional supplies and must be given to each teacher by Oct. 31 of each school year, according to the legislation. The funds cannot be used for basic building needs such as HVAC equipment, carpet, furniture or items or equipment for the teachers’ lounge.
According to the National Education Association, well over 90 percent of teachers spend their own money on school supplies and other items their students need to succeed.
Just before the pandemic, educators on average spent around $500 of their own money on classroom supplies over the course of the year.
What do educators spend the money on? Paper and notebooks, binders and clipboards, crayons and pencils, dry erase markers, glue sticks. Some teachers say they have to purchase their own soap and hand sanitizer to supplement what is provided by the district.
Sometimes, these funds not only cover typical classroom staples such as copier paper or colored pencils, but also go toward clothing and personal hygiene necessities for students who need them.
Educators who spend their own money on school supplies feel it’s essential to helping their students learn and feel comfortable in the classroom. But for many educators, that annual spending does take a toll.
What would giving teachers a budget for their own supplies do? In short, it would help them to plan fabulous lessons and buy materials that stimulate minds and activate engagement — the very types of things that bring social-emotional and rich academic learning to life.
Imagine a classroom filled to the brim with the raw materials teachers want their students to have. Imagine a class where the teacher and the students get what they need because your tax dollars finally go to the person best suited to purchase it for them. That’s the kind of learning environment most parents want for their students.
And then, what if all of America’s teachers stopped spending their own money to buy supplies for their children for one year? Imagine how many classrooms would lack the resources children need to write, read, learn how to use fundamental technology, or work on creative projects.
In the coming months, legislators will debate policies concerning school choice, vouchers, teacher pay, classroom subjects, and guidelines for passing a student to the next game. Amidst these important discussions, we should not lose sight of what may seem like a very small, but very real problem: Students need tools to learn. It’s incumbent on parents, school districts, and policy makers to remember that sometimes the problem right in front of you is the most fixable. Parents must urge local school districts and state legislatures to adequately fund education, including by providing supplies to students who need them. Teachers must continue to make noise about the supplies they need the most.
No matter what changes we make on major policies, teachers — and their ability to both teach and make learning exciting for children — remain the most important component of education. We should not let a lack of basic supplies keep them from doing their job. We owe better funding to our children as well as our teachers.
If we all do our part, a classroom full of pens, notebooks, art supplies, and science materials will be in reach for every child who walks in the schoolhouse door.

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