- Mark Johnson, North Carolina's superintendent of public instruction, and some Republican state lawmakers unveiled legislation last week that would provide $400 each to more than 93,000 teachers to buy supplies for their classrooms beginning next fall, Education Week reports.
- If passed, the legislation would redirect roughly $37.4 million of the $47.5 million allocated for instructional supplies and equipment to teachers, rather than school districts, to spend as they see fit. The new plan, Johnson said, would allow teachers to buy what they need, keep districts from reallocating the funds to other priorities, and allow the state to better track supply needs for various grades and classes as they budget for the future.
- The money would be dispersed and tracked through an electronic account called ClassWallet, Education Week notes. Similar electronic accounts are now being used in New Mexico and Florida.
Meeting teachers' needs is now at the forefront of many state discussions, especially since the West Virginia teacher strike last year ignited a wave of teacher protests that are still going on nationwide. The North Carolina state superintendent proposes that the majority of state funds earmarked for classroom supplies be given directly to teachers in order to meet this need. And while this measure gives teachers more direct control over these funds and helps offset their personal costs, it also removes control of these funds from school districts.
This scenario highlights the growing debate in how to allocate state educational funds. In other budget areas, such as reducing class size, some state lawmakers noted that some districts were redirecting funds, given to them to reduce class sizes, to other purposes, such as hiring art and music teachers. Since then, legislation has moved to curtail district flexibility to meet the original purpose of the funding.
A need to meet teachers' needs is also likely to be a top priority in the upcoming 2020 presidential election primaries as some candidates, including California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, have already proposed significant raises in teacher pay, and several bills in state legislatures move to do the same. But while teacher pay has been the main point of discussion in recent months, the plight of teachers with regards to meeting classroom needs has also drawn attention at the state and federal levels. A $250 federal educator tax deduction helped to some degree, but since most teachers spend more than $500 each year, it is not enough to make up the difference.
In North Carolina, as in many states, teacher pay is increasing as more attention has been draw to the issue and state coffers have begun to refill after the recession. In 2011, the National Education Association (NEA) ranked North Carolina 47th in the nation in teacher pay. By 2018, the ranking was 37th in the nation and the most recent rankings now place it at 29th overall and 20th in the nation when adjusted for cost of living.
Many teacher pay increases have come at a cost, however, as some school districts are being forced to cut other staff positions to accommodate the increases. And while teacher pay may be increasing in some states, overall per-pupil spending is not always keeping pace. As school districts wrestle with budget priorities, they need to somehow keep the needs of teachers in mind without holding them hostage in budget negotiations. And state lawmakers need to look at overall district needs without dealing only with the fiscal issues that create the most political pressure.