School Supply Madness: July Is Our Amazing Race/Treasure Hunt
I was at a local bookstore recently and saw one of my public education pet peeves on display: teacher school supply lists. School Districts spend thousands of dollars on poverty research materials, hire speakers on the subject and even purchase books for staff. However, in practice they behave as if they have no idea what it’s like to actually be lower middle class or just plain poor.
I know what it's like to grow up acutely aware of my family's financial situation. Kids like me who come from low-income households can relate to the burden it puts on parents and students when schools ask for more money than the family can afford. This trip to the local bookstore brought back my frustration over the disconnect between schools and the families they serve.
When I got home, I pulled up some current school supply lists from schools who have well over half their population on free lunch. It is not uncommon for some teachers, and thus schools, to ask for over $250.00 of supplies per child. Outrageous!
It’s unbelievable what is actually on some of these lists. It would personally take me days to find everything on this treasure hunt.
This is one school supply list, which includes items that caught my attention, followed by some of my sarcastic thoughts.
Reams of paper — Does the school not provide paper? I pay school taxes on my house, my car, cable tv and cell phones. Why do I have to buy my own paper?
Printer Ink — Ink too? Why not just ask us all to pitch in to buy the dang printer?
Avery Purple Notebooks — What if the store does not have that brand? Why must they be purple? Can't kids pick their own color?
64 Count Crayola Crayons — Do they have to be Crayola?
Foldable Clipboard — What size?
Eight Glue Sticks — That’s a lot of gluing. I guess I am paying for the children who do not bring any.
Box of scissors — Why do we need a whole box?
One package of washable markers
Three 1-subject spiral notebooks (black/blue/yellow)
A package of twelve Ticonderoga Pencils — They do not have that brand at my Dollar General Store . . .
Two packs of Post-It notes
Two boxes of Kleenex — Not facial tissues, but Kleenex. Teacher must be into name brands.
Half gallon size of Zip-Lock baggies
Personal Water Bottle
Box of pencil top erasers — What’s wrong with erasers on the pencil?
Bring five dollars in cash for art supplies — Now we're just straight up asking for money?
Bring five dollars for an agenda book — Oh, great. More money.
One box of colored pencils — How many?
One pencil bag with three holes
One package of highlighters
Clorox Wipes — Does the school not have cleaning supplies? Do they have to be Clorox?
This is just one list, but it's similar to a lot that I see. Add up the cost of all these items. Now imagine you are on food stamps with three children and have not paid your electric bill. You also want to buy your children each a new school outfit, including shoes. The three children also need haircuts. Perhaps you are in the 30% of grandmothers who are raising school children in our district with no car and living off social security. Do they need to pay for a taxi or Uber to the store? I'm sure teachers are not thinking about these issues when they make their lists. Most schools or districts in Kentucky have 70% of students or greater on free lunch. How do schools expect these parents or guardians to pay for and get all these supplies?
The local community center is having a backpack and supply giveaway. Should I even go, as those supplies may not be what the teacher requires?
As I say in my books, we need to walk in the shoes of our customers. Parents and guardians in poverty will do anything to make sure their children have the correct supplies. In addition to parents fearing their children will be teased about being poor, they also have to worry about them being “school supply shamed” for not having all their supplies or, worse, for not having the right brand. This is the problem with such particular, extensive school supply lists. As parents, we want our children to have the same items at school as the rest of the kids. We will worry all summer until we complete the school supply treasure hunt. Unlike a true treasure hunt, parents in poverty will have to decide what to go without or sacrifice in order to keep their children from being embarrassed on the first day of school. What an awful position in which to put our most important customers.
The school district collects taxes on homes, cars, cable, and cell phones. A school district has various pots of money in Title Programs, Family Resource Programs, etc. Many times, these funds are eaten up with salaries for staff instead of truly helping students and families. I urge school leaders to prioritize finding room in the budget for materials for students.
When I was superintendent of Newport Independent Schools, we practiced walking in the shoes of our customers: for those eight years, our school board and I did not make our parents or grandparents ever pay for school supplies. It took work to do this and we were not a rich school by any means. But it was a priority of ours and we found a way, as I think every school can. I applaud the school districts and leaders who are able to pool their different pots of money, get their teachers the needed supplies and take the worry off parents/guardians over the summer. Let’s quit playing The Amazing School Supply Race each July and stop putting undue pressure on our most impoverished families.