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Lawmakers announce legislation to send classroom supply funds directly to teachers

Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, surrounded by fellow Republican Senate and House members and Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, announced today a Senate bill that would bypass districts to provide classroom supply funds directly to teachers for their classrooms. 

The bill would create the Teacher Classroom Supply Program, which would give teachers $400 to spend on classroom supplies. Teachers would be able to use a ClassWallet app to purchase classroom supplies directly or to get reimbursed for purchases made locally. The money would be taken from the roughly $47 million typically budgeted for classroom supplies by legislators. That money usually goes to districts, which then decide how the money is spent. The $400 per teacher won’t drain the entire classroom supply line item. About $10 million will be left over to go to districts for larger item purchases. 

Alex Granados/EducationNC

Wells said the idea for the bill came about because he heard that districts weren’t using the money as they should. 

“All too often local bureaucrats decided not to spend the money on school supplies,” he said. “Bureaucrats use the money to pay for other things on their to-do list.” 

He said under his bill, that will change. 

“Bureaucrats will no longer be able to take that money and spend it on something else,” he said. 

Johnson reflected back on his time as a teacher, saying that he remembered regularly not having adequate supplies and having to reach into his own pocket or rely on outside organizations for help getting classroom supplies. 

“Let’s show teachers that we trust them to make the right decisions for their classrooms,” he said, adding later, “No state the size of North Carolina has tried to do something like this.”

He said that, in addition, the app will be able to give education leaders and lawmakers a better idea of how classroom supply funds are being spent. Giving teachers more control over their own resources will also enable them to tailor purchases better to their needs. 

“Just as we are working so hard to personalize learning for our students, we must acknowledge that every teacher has different individual needs for their classrooms.”

Johnson was asked why 2017 state Teacher of the Year Lisa Godwin was absent from the press conference. She was listed on the announcement that went out yesterday. 

 “I have not talked with Ms. Godwin,” he said, though when asked if she would support the legislation, he said he thought she would. 

“I know there was a conversation yesterday and she was excited,” he said. 

In a post yesterday to the Facebook group called North Carolina Teachers United, Godwin explained a little bit about why she wasn’t going to the press conference. 

“A press announcement went out earlier today that stated I would be attending an educational announcement being made tomorrow. I just wanted to clarify that the announcement was somewhat premature. After much consideration and prayer, I have decided not to be a part of the announcement,” she wrote. 

In an interview later, Godwin said she had been advocating for something like this for years. When she heard about the legislation, she initially thought it would be new money for teachers but later learned it would simply be a reallocation of existing funds. 

“When I reflected on that … that’s gonna hurt districts, because districts are already underfunded,” she said.

She went on to say that the reallocation might have unintended consequences.

“That sounds great on the surface. But $400 is not going to go very far, and my fear was that a district would say well you got $400, we don’t have the money to buy bulletin board paper or copy paper, you know toner for the computers and things like that,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t sound like it was going to be the right choice for teachers.” 

2018 Teacher of the Year Freebird McKinney said he agrees with Godwin. 

“I felt like it sounds awesome,” McKinney said in an interview with EducationNC. “Every teacher would want $400, but I think, in the long run, if you really look at it, it could really penalize districts in how they buy in bulk and how they address needs like copy paper or toner and the paper that goes on the bulletin boards. Because what would end up happening is probably in January, teachers would have to pool all those resources to get that together… The core of it is that we need more instructional resources, but it seems like this is, it seems like it’s more of a reallocation than it is an addition.”

When asked if he talked to other teachers about this specific legislation, Johnson said he had not. Bill Medlin, executive director of the Professional Educators of North Carolina, said the legislation seemed like a “step in the right direction.” 

“Our organization … has always stayed true to the fact that we want to provide resources and avenues for that for teachers,” he said. 

The House is also filing a companion bill to the Senate legislation. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.