State Superintendent Mark Johnson was the lone person to speak in favor of proposed legislation that would give money for classroom supplies directly to teachers during the state board of education meeting Thursday. State school board members raised concerns that mirror those of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials who are concerned that Senate Bill 580 would not provide enough money for classroom materials.
The proposed legislation would give all North Carolina teachers $400 to spend when they wish on approved school supplies for their classrooms. The money would be made available to them through an app that they would use for purchases and reimbursements.
“I’m excited about the $400 for teachers and giving teachers that $400 to buy what their class needs and when they need it is the best thing right now,” Johnson said. “It is using money that already goes to the district.”
Last year, the state appropriated $47 million for local school districts to use classroom supplies. According to teacher advisor to the state board of education Lisa Godwin, that amounted to just over $30 dollars per student. For Godwin’s class, that was a little over $700 — much more than SB 580 would provide.
“I’m a little scared that this bill could pass and it will be even worse than what we’re dealing with now,” Godwin said. “You can’t run a class for 24 kids and provide for them what they need with that kind of money. I advocated all last year for an increase in funding and that’s what I thought I was getting, that they’d listened and they didn’t.”
Godwin, who was the state’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, was supposed to be at Wednesday’s press conference when Johnson and the bill’s sponsors announced it in Raleigh. She says she changed her mind when she realized that the $400 was not the $18 million in new money the board had requested, but a reallocation of existing funding.
Board member Jill Camnitz said $400 won’t go far for teachers and thinks the legislation would backfire.
“It may end up that teachers have to spend money on copiers and printers and things that are now covered by the LEAs (Local Education Agency)," she said.
Other board members pointed out that local districts save money by buying in bulk and get better deals for large orders, something they say will be lost with teachers making individual purchases through the app. But Johnson insists the bill is the way to go.
“This is new to everyone and I expect we will have a bumpy start. A kindergarten teacher will need more than an earth science teacher. We don’t know what those numbers are but this tool, this APP, will give us that info," Johnson said. "By seeing what teachers spend their money on, we will know directly what’s needed in the classroom."
Johnson said that information will help him make the case for increased education funds in future budget negotiations. Board members say they want to know more about the app, how much the company is making from the relationship and if teachers will face tax implications with the direct payments.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Lisa Godwin is a teacher advisor to the NC Board of Eduction, not a board member.