by: John deVille, Macon County Social Studies Teacher
In the August 29th edition of The Franklin Press, Lynn Martin, mother of a child in the third grade, wrote of her dissatisfaction with having to purchase school supplies for other children in her son’s classroom (“Don’t force parents to provide supplies for all”). Ms. Martin wrote that her “family works hard to ensure bills are paid and food is on the table.” Ms. Martin was upset her son may have to forgo the “cool Captain America notebook” because the school was asking her to purchase more generic notebooks so they may be distributed throughout the classroom without generating envy or slight.
I completely agree with Ms. Martin — she and her family should not have to subsidize the purchase of school supplies for the other students in her son’s classroom. Period. Full stop.
More and more, Ms. Martin and other North Carolina middle and working class parents like her, are unfairly being asked to subsidize the shortfalls in North Carolina classrooms because:
1. The economic recovery from the 2008 recession has resulted in greater economic inequality with many North Carolinians below or near the poverty line. Macon County workers make 25% below the state average, in line with the trend of rural North Carolina lagging in the recovery.
2. Shifts in North Carolina’s tax policies put in place the past few years by the General Assembly which have favored wealthier citizens over working taxpayers.
3. North Carolina public education funding on a per pupil basis is 7.9% lower than it was in 2008 when adjusted for inflation and the increased number of students in our classrooms.
4. There has been a failure of the General Assembly to comply with their constitutional obligation and disburse $730 million of civil fines and penalties which have already been collected but not disbursed to school systems. A court ruled in 2008 that these funds must be distributed but the state agencies failed to comply. Just last month, the North Carolina School Board Association filed yet another lawsuit demanding payment. Macon County alone is owed over $2 million — funds which must be spent on technology which would, in turn, free up more funds for other classroom supplies.
5. After being wined and dined by Apple and completely without consultation with teachers, school boards, and superintendents, State Superintendent Mark Johnson thought it would be a good idea to purchase iPads for all K-3 teachers at the cost of $6 million which the previous state superintendent was not permitted to disburse. Many North Carolina K-3 teachers would have appreciated the $500 per teacher for classroom supplies rather than technology which might be redundant or unable to be integrated into classroom use.
To provide a snapshot of increasing economic desperation, consider the percentage of students in North Carolina on free & reduced lunch increased over 15% in one year going from 52% needing the program in 2016 to 60% in 2017.
Income taxes in North Carolina have been cut but mostly to the benefit of the top 20%, especially the top 1%, which receives an average of $21,780 in tax breaks a year, which is 59 times the average cut for people in the middle fifth of the income scale and 1,361 times the average cut for people in the bottom 20%.
Under the new tax system which went into effect in 2016 & 2017, a taxpayer making $30,000 a year saw a $50 cut in income taxes but one $750 car repair (and the working class is far more likely to be driving a car in need of frequent repairs) results in a new tax of $50 which would wipe the income tax cut away and put those notebooks a little further out of reach.
Income taxes were cut, and revenues to the state coffers reduced, but the costs of funding schools adequately remains the same. That has resulted in either larger classes, missing classes, lack of textbooks and so on, OR it has resulted in counties such as Macon having to kick more in to the current operating expense budget, OR asking parents like Ms. Martin to subsidize the classroom. One gobsmacking story in student/parent subsidization of what is supposed to be a free education is Wake County raising the parking permits for high school students from $80 to $200. Thankfully, FHS remains at $5.
Under the umbrella of the 7.9% public education funding gap, North Carolina students have suffered a 50% cut for classroom supplies.
Parents like Ms. Martin aren’t the only ones subsidizing the lack of classroom supplies. North Carolina teachers are spending on average $500 to $1,000 of their own money on classroom supplies — ask any Macon County teacher for details. Budget cuts necessitate more student fundraising — guess who are the first people students ask to buy a $2 candle or a $2 tin of candied popcorn for $10? And then after us, they ask their cash-strapped parents.
Representative Kevin Corbin and I discussed this very issue on the evening of August 23rd. He pointed out that he keeps hearing teachers say “we have no supplies” and he noted that statement distresses him because he knows the General Assembly does in fact provide school supply money but that sometimes it doesn’t find its way to the classroom because of issues at central offices (an issue that we do not have here in Macon County). While I told him I appreciated his commitment to ensure those funds to find their way directly to the classroom, I reminded him that school supply monies were HALF of what they were in 2008. He agreed with that statement and committed to work on improving those funding levels. If we can restore that funding, then the sort of unfair subsidization Ms. Martin rightly denounces, should become less necessary.
Another hit to the Macon County Schools budget arises from the fact that we are compelled to pay $90,000 a year to Summit Charter in Cashiers for students from Highlands who attend that school. By law, operational dollars follow the student, and on the surface that seems eminently fair, but charters tend to attract the least expensive students to educate and leave more costly special needs students to the traditional public schools. $90,000 taken off the top for an exceptionally well-heeled charter school would purchase a lot of school supplies if those funds were left in the Macon County Schools budget.
In addition to the cuts to classroom supplies have been the cuts to textbooks, which currently stands at 37% below 2008 funding levels — this actually represents a rebound as we had several years of zero or near zero funding for textbooks since 2011. That shortfall resulted in school systems burning up their copying machines and their meager school supply budgets just to get some sort of relevant instructional materials in the hands of students.
As I see it, the problem isn’t with the “families who have figured out the system” but with the donor class which has created the system which has systematically redistributed wealth from working and middle class with new taxes and new demands for subsidization while cutting essential services.
The student and her parents who are struggling financially, likely stuck in minimum wage jobs without full-time hours, are not the oppressors — they don’t have the power to oppress. We need to focus on those who do....just like Captain America would.