Back to School: Why not give public school parents a $95.00 voucher for classroom supplies

August 1, 2013

A Spokesman-Review editorial this week laments the awkward summer ritual of teachers, sometimes assisted by parents and charities, having to spend their own money to provide basic classroom supplies.  As the editorial notes, "The problem is that lawmakers have underfunded basic education for so long." Two things are surprising about this statement.

First, it is surprising that the long-term policy of underfunding basic education as occurred under a series of liberal governors, all of whom said that funding education was their top priority.

Second, it is surprising that in public education, but not other professions, the practice of failing to provide basic workplace supplies for front-line employees is tolerated and excused.  Does UPS make its delivery drivers buy their own gas?  Do office workers have to bring their own pens and printer paper to work?  Of course not.

Just one tenth of the money added to the education budget this session would buy a year's worth of supplies for every public school student in the state.  Only in public education do district managers short their employees on basic supplies and make teachers spend their own money on classroom needs, or seek charity to fill the gap.

As a solution, why not have school districts provide public school parents with a classroom supplies voucher of, say, $95.00 a year to make sure children have what they need to arrive at school ready to learn?

Education officials should make sure parents and teachers have everything they need to help children learn now, before they direct money to other parts of the budget.  As the Spokesman-Review rightly puts it, "What could be more basic...?"


Reply to comment | Washington Policy Center

Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident, and I'm surprised why this twist of
fate did not took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

$95 to parents for school supplies - NO WAY

I have two angles regarding this issue.
1. As a teacher, I annually spent several hundred dollars on posters, maps, educational games, videos to supplement my lessons. While it would have been nice to have the school supply these items, when I transferred to another district, I felt justified in taking my supplies with me.

2. On the other hand, I resented furnishing kleenex, pens, and pencils for students. If I offered a sniffling student a kleenex, some would immediately snatch a handful to get them through the rest of the day. KLEENEX that I had purchased for MY use!! And I felt the nurse should not have been expected to supply sanitary supplies to girls as well as often providing juice and cookies to students who were "feeling woozy" because they hadn't eaten breakfast. In fact, the whole issue of schools providing breakfasts aggravates me. Parents should be responsible to provide for their children- including getting up and sending them to school with a full stomach and sending them with the personal health supplies they need.

The problem becomes this: as long as parents know schools will give out normal necessities of life, they will let the taxpayer fund them. When students have to provide their own kleenex, tampax, paper, pens, pencils, glue, crayons, etc. they TAKE BETTER CARE of those items. I recall substituting in a Shoreline School where paper was provided in the typing class. Instead of students practicing on one sheet of paper until it was full, they would make one mistake and trash the whole page because the teacher had an endless supply.

Some schools solve the issue by operating a school supply store open at lunch time where students can purchase their personal supplies. Some schools require each student to bring one box of Kleenex on the first day. These are stored and used throughout the year. If they run out, all parents must send another box. Some teachers "loan" pens by requiring "collateral" - that is, the student gives the teacher his or her shoe or jacket that will be returned when the pen is returned. Choose an item that the student will NEED before he leaves the room.

Already, schools provide textbooks, and many students write all over them, leave them out in the rain, spill soft drinks on them, and think nothing of it. I used to reprimand students for defacing books and desks, telling them that I'm a taxpayer and I resent their destroying something I've had to pay for. But their attitude was "so what?" The comparison of office workers with pens and printer paper provided is not completely parallel. The work generated on the office supplies remains with the office, or at least it should. The papers that students write remain the property of the student.

Paul Guppy's idea is typical of our society's "gimme" attitude. It will not teach students that even a pen costs SOMEONE money. A cheap BIC costs less than one soda. Where are the students' priorities? His idea will not teach students to take care of the textbooks. Instead it simply promotes the "throw-away" culture we live in. If the school teaches nothing else, it should teach PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

Okay, so I'm a 67-year-old grouchy taxpayer. But my parents and I paid for my school books, paper, pens, kleenex, crayons, glue, etc. all my life even throughout my teaching career. Now the responsibility should belong to today's parents, not to me.

Reply to comment | Washington Policy Center

Just wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity in your post
is simply cool and i can assume you are an expert on this subject.
Fine with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.
Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

An Opportunity

This is good idea but not well thought out. Rather than a voucher that funnels public funds to large corporations such as Walmart and Target, the School Districts need to take these $95 and collectively buy the supplies the children and teachers need. The parents can set up shop and run the school based store with a %age going to pay for activities for their children that increases achievement. Not having school supplies is not keeping our children from learning to read, and solve complex scientific and mathematical problems.

$100 extra per student could put 1 tablet per each two students in classrooms. This is what students of parents who can afford school supplies buy. And what is wrong with the public donating school supplies to our public schools? It is not charity it is social justice.

Certainly there would be

Certainly there would be details to be worked out, but the goal I'm suggesting is to put parents, not District central administrators, in a position to make sure students have what they need to learn. Whether classroom supplies come from Walmart or a nonprofit co-op is less the point than allowing parents to make sure directly that students and teachers get the support they need.

Paul Guppy on $95 for classroom children

I would improve on your idea, which I basically like. (It's elitist, in a way, but sensible). Do not give the $95 to students who don't need it and take however much that turns out to be and give more to the poorer students and allow them to buy school clothing with it.

My Rotary club regularly supports backpacks, etc., for poorer students and we also have a regular 'giving tree' where parents can ask for clothing for their children in school.

Further, HOW will you insure that the $95 goes to school supplies and not be 'stolen' by the child's caregivers, whomever they may be? Maybe a 'school store', run by the students, with bulk purchases made by the Superintendent's office and stored for the school year? (people on drugs, alcohol and other dependencies have zero scruples when it comes to money for their habits.)

Anyway, it is basically a good idea that needs some further implementation plans.


Paul Everett

I take no issue with

I take no issue with supplying my son with pencils, erasers, scissors and such necessary items that he will be using while learning. Where I begin to get upset is when we were required to bring in boxes of tissues, disinfectant wipes, copy paper, dry erase markers (for the teacher), red pens (for the teacher) and other such items (not including boxes of snacks each month for the class). These are things the school really should provide for the teachers. Not only is it expensive and ridiculous for the parents to supply the classroom with facial tissue and copy paper it is also quite difficult for a first grade student to even lug all that to school in the first place. I wish I could say I was kidding. Letters were even sent out mid year requesting refills of these items. Priorities are not where I would like them to be, that is for sure.

You make some good points.

You make some good points. First, the $95 I'm suggesting per student is funding that already exists in school district budgets, but it's obviously not being spent to provide teachers what they need in the classroom. Giving a set amount to each parent would insure the funds are spent where they're needed: providing students with supplies in class. Second, a class supply voucher would not be provided to caregivers as cash, it would be a card or account that is limited to approved purposes as directed by the recipient, the way food stamps and federal college aid work now. - Paul.