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State Superintendent Joins Lawmakers To Announce N.C. Classroom Supplies Program

Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager

State Superintendent Mark Johnson joined lawmakers in the House and Senate on Wednesday to announce the “Teacher Classroom Supply Program”—a new initiative that would provide each teacher in the State with $400 to spend on classroom supplies by reallocating existing supply funds. Currently, the State allocates approximately $47 million per year for classroom supplies, reflecting a significant decrease in funding compared to pre-Recession amounts. The Teacher Classroom Supply Program would reallocate the majority of these funds to individual teachers, leaving approximately $10 million statewide for larger district purchases. Under the Program, teachers would utilize an app called “ClassWallet” to initially reimburse classroom supply purchases and eventually, purchase supplies directly through the app.

Senator Andy Wells (R-Catawba) announced his introduction of the Senate bill supporting the Program, SB 580: Classroom Supplies to Teachers, noting, “All too often local bureaucrats decided not to spend the money on school supplies.” He continued, “Bureaucrats use the money to pay for other things on their to-do list.” Some members of the State Board of Education noted during their monthly meeting this morning that there has been no data supporting the assertion that local school administrators have mishandled funds for classroom supplies. Sen. Wells was joined by Senators Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) and Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph), both Chairs of the Senate Education and Education Appropriations Committees, as primary sponsors of the bill. House lawmakers noted they would also be filing a companion bill in the days ahead.

Since the announcement of the program, several education leaders and teachers have expressed concerns regarding certain aspects of the bill, including members of the State Board of Education during today’s meeting. The 2017 state Teacher of the Year, Lisa Godwin, apologized for not joining Superintendent Johnson during the press conference for the program as originally planned, while referring to her earlier comments that “after much consideration and prayer [she] decided not to be part of the announcement.”

Godwin emphasized that the program may initially appeal to many teachers, as it appealed to her, but that it could harm school districts and teachers in the long run. Godwin’s concerns were shared by several other members of the Board, including 2018 Teacher of the Year Freebird McKinney. McKinney noted in an interview with EducationNC, “The core of it is that we need more instructional resources, but it seems like this is … more of a reallocation than it is an addition.”  Superintendent Johnson, in speaking to the State Board, defended his proposal, noting that the program may have some initial issues, but that he is “not going to do things that are bad for teachers.”

Since the announcement of this proposal, NCASA has received questions and concerns from numerous local superintendents. Many have indicated they currently use other funds to supplement the already-inadequate instructional supply allotment and that the new proposal ultimately will increase overall expenditures on those supplies. The following are some of the specific concerns that superintendents have raised:

  • Economies of scale that now benefit districts through bulk buying for all schools and teachers will be lost if the supply allotment is shifted to individual teachers rather than the district, and
  • Teachers are likely to use their proposed $400 allocation quickly on specific supplies they want for their own classroom; however, they will still expect the district to cover costs for basic supplies like staples, copy paper, toner for copiers/printers and/or to cover their supply needs when their individual allocation is depleted.

NCASA will share these concerns with bill sponsors and other lawmakers, and we encourage our members to do the same, as well as sharing those communications with NCASA Executive Director Katherine Joyce, We will provide additional information on this proposal as pertinent developments occur.

Elizabeth Yelverton