Every year, it seems the back-to-school shopping lists that parents get from their children’s teachers in advance of the first day of school get longer, more inflexible and expensive.
This is hardly an efficient way of addressing students’ and teachers’ needs, yet it’s become necessary. Why? Mostly because the state refuses to go the distance when it comes to providing money for education essentials.
The state gives districts 99 percent of what they need to provide top-quality education. It helps them build good schools, hire good teachers, buy the right books and state-of-the-art equipment, etc. Then it stints when it comes to making sure kids have notebooks to write in, erasers to correct their mistakes with, glue sticks to paste things in their notebooks, etc.
And it shortchanges them on stuff that, while not related to education, is still necessary — supplies needed to keep their classrooms clean and safe from communicable illnesses.
Teachers have long shelled out for some of these things because they know some of their students can’t afford them. And when it comes to something like a box of tissues, it can be a matter of personal survival: They don’t want to get sick any more than they want their students to.
And even though teachers can get a federal tax deduction for some of these materials, it’s still wrong to ask, or expect, them to be provided
In the tax-cap era, it’s also tough to ask the schools to. They can’t legally raise taxes to cover their true costs without sacrificing more-important things; and even if they could, school-budget voters probably wouldn’t let them.
So teachers have increasingly been asking parents to plug this gap. It’s understandable to some extent, but every year it seems to get more out of hand. For example, it’s not enough to ask parents to buy No. 2 pencils; they have to be a particular brand?! And notebooks have to be color-coded? Give us a break!
It’s also become increasingly obvious that teachers’ wish lists are growing because they realize some parents can’t afford (or simply will refuse to buy) a lot of the stuff. And so they want the ones who can (or won’t) to make up for the others. That’s also understandable, because a shared supply pool ensures no one will be deprived, or stigmatized.
But it’s hardly fair to parents.
The state used to pay for a lot of these materials, and should resume doing so. It’s not only fairer, but cheaper, thanks to bulk purchasing.
And it would be a lot easier on parents, for whom back-to-school shopping is already enough of a costly nightmare.