Underfunded schools don’t have a choice. They have to slough off the cost of providing an education to parents and teachers.
For years, parents have sent students back to school with supplies such as tissue, glue, hand sanitizer, markers and notebooks, but ongoing state underfunding has forced districts to decimate their supply budgets to such an extent that schools now foist most costs onto parents. The National Retail Federation reports parents will spend $594 for each student this year on back-to-school items, compared to $563 last year. Total back-to-school spending for kindergarten through 12th grade this year is estimated to reach $20.1 billion.
But not all supply costs are borne by the students. Teachers such as Christy Lukasewycz, a 5th-grade teacher at Rice Lake Elementary in Osseo, often spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to buy school supplies for their students.
The money goes to supplement school necessities such as notebooks, hand sanitizer, paper and glue, Lukasewycz said. Some of the money goes to help students from low income families. While some schools have parent-teacher organizations that help pay for clothes and supplies for poor students, some schools do not, Lukasewycz said. “It’s so unfair to the kids,” she said, so she keeps a few mittens and boots around so no one misses recess, and a supply of snacks so no one goes without.
Peggy Bennett, a 1st grade teacher at Sibley Elementary in Albert Lea, will also buy items that make learning easier for her students.
“I bought a piece of carpet that I can use for ‘special time’,” Bennett said. “It’s easy to drive a toy car on as a treat. It’s not educational but more social.”
A study found teachers in Minnesota spent an inflation-adjusted $724 each year before school, or roughly $32 million. Bennett said she will spend more than $1,000 on back-to-school items; Lukasewycz about $250.
The financial burden is especially heavy on new teachers, whose average starting salary in Minnesota about $30,000 a year. While veteran teachers such as Bennett and Lukasewycz have amassed many of the things they need to equip a classroom, beginning teachers often start from scratch.
Teachers can receive a $250 tax exemption for buying school supplies.
If money for school hand sanitizer doesn’t come from a tax write-off or from state school funding, then where does it come from? Almost $600 comes from each student’s parents, and almost $725 comes from each teacher.
In 2009, Minnesotans will hear hours of debate about the state’s budget. During this debate, it would do us all well to remember that the least the state can offer a teacher and a student is a box of tissue and a dispenser of hand sanitizer.