Maybe Parents Should Be The Ones Paying For School Supplies, Not Teachers!

pencil

Teachers shouldn’t need to pay for pencils to write checks to buy more pencils

When my older daughter started kindergarten last fall, we celebrated her graduation from preschooler-ness to big girl-ness by decorating the house with balloons and serving cupcakes and kisses. My husband and I also privately high-fived the end of writing nearly four-figure monthly payments to her nursery school. Public school! No tuition! Hooray!

And then on the day I went to drop off her registration forms, the elementary school secretary asked me how I’d like to pay for her kindergarten tuition fee. That’s because in Colorado, if you want your kid to attend full-day kindergarten, you’ve got to pony up roughly $2,000 a year (or half of that if you have a younger child in some kind of daycare program). It wasn’t nearly as much as we’d been paying for preschool, of course, but it still felt awfully cruel to have to pay for what we thought we were already paying for through our taxes, which is: a public school education.

I don’t know of a single kindergartener in my daughter’s school who only attends school for half days, but that’s probably thanks to the assistance the school provides to families who struggle to afford the money needed to make it happen. The sad irony is that those who most need their kids in school for full-day kindergarten so they can work can at least afford to pay what it takes to keep them there. Which is just another reason why I love my daughter’s school — that funding is made available through the Parent-Teachers’ Association specifically for this need.

The New York Daily News is reporting that public school teachers in New York City spend an average of $500 out of their own pockets each year to buy school supplies that they are not otherwise provided. A just-released teachers’ union poll there found that even in a city with a $24 billion education budget, basic supplies such as pens, paper and other instructional materials simply won’t appear in many classrooms unless teachers dig into their own wallets to purchase them.

From making families pay for their kids to attend full-day kindergarten, to teachers draining their already-meager paychecks for basic classroom supplies, to having some kids denied lunch because their cafeteria accounts are delinquent — WHAT IS GOING ON?

I’m not going to oversimplify the situation by, say, declaring our country spends too much on military supplies and not enough on art room supplies. I’m bright enough to know that the situation is complicated, nuanced and controversial. Some towns, cities, counties, parishes and states are wealthier than others. Some people in some of those places have way more and others have next to nothing. While there is no universal solution to paying teachers more nor is there a simple answer to giving more people in need more of what they need, there might just be a way to make it just a little better.

I don’t have all the money in the world. On the contrary, my husband and I both work full-time and while we are eminently comfortable financially, we often remark we wouldn’t mind being just a bit more comfortable. But we could also spare $50, $100 or even $150 annually to put into a fund in our school to help those who are less comfortable than we are. That money could go towards more school supplies, hot lunches for kids whose families can’t afford it, or full-day kindergarten for parents who simply can’t fork over the $2,000 that it takes to make those days happen.

There are plenty of families for whom even $25 towards a fund like that is simply not a possibility. But for families like mine for whom that wouldn’t break the bank — and for families not like mine who could spare even more towards such a fund, wouldn’t that be a fabulous way to relieve the financial strain on teachers, families and kids for whom the basic needs are a daily struggle?

I hate the oversimplification of complicated problems. But doesn’t this solution seem stupidly easy? For those of us who can do a little more to help those who just can’t, what are we waiting for? Can it really be such a hassle to talk to the school board/principal/PTA/teachers and ask to start a fund where the money goes towards these few but mightily important causes? Do we need to wait for a vote or a proclamation or a decree? Or can we just start our own parent revolution, one $25, $50 or $100 check at a time so that our hard-working teachers, needy students, and friends and neighbors facing hard times can benefit immediately?

It seems to be a problem that could really just be a phone call and a cashier’s check away from being solved. I’m in. Are you?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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