Superintendent Mark Johnson attended a statewide press conference earlier this month at the North Carolina Legislative Building alongside State Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba) as they announced their idea for a new program that would give the licensed teachers of North Carolina, which currently stands at $94,000, a $400 allowance to buy supplies for the classroom.
What would have been a celebratory moment was a little less glorified as a certain conference participant was missing. Lisa Godwin, the 2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, decided not to attend because she was concerned about how the program would be funded.
“I was under the impression it was $400 in new money on top of what districts already receive,” said Godwin in an interview with NC Policy Watch.
An elementary school teacher in Onslow County, Godwin was referring to the almost $50 million the state gives to school districts in NC to purchase supplies.
Announced by Johnson and Wells, Senate Bill 580 will remove close to $40 million from local school districts and redirect it to teachers who use the ClassWallet app to spend the money given or claim reimbursements for money they spend out of their own pockets. A similar plan is already being carried out in Florida and New Mexico.
Johnson was just as surprised as the rest of the attendants when Godwin didn’t show and did not know how to answer when asked about her absence.
“I do not have understanding at this time why she’s not here. I was told she was not going to be able to make it,” said Johnson at a press conference. “There was ‘a conversation yesterday’ and Godwin was excited about the program.”
Godwin replied with, “I realized it was just a reallocation of funds. It felt like there could be repercussions for districts. Districts could be hurt from a purchasing standpoint because they buy so many things in bulk and they have the capacity to buy more at a lesser amount. If we took that money away from them that could prohibit them from being able to do that.”
Godwin also explained that the approval of the bill could backfire on the teachers involved in the program.
“This $400 is going to run out pretty quick, and [teachers] going to go to their districts and say the need copy paper or toner, and the districts are going to say, sorry you got your $400,” said Godwin to NC Policy Watch. “I don’t want to do anything that would hurt districts or teachers.”
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, teachers spend almost $480 of their own money per academic year on classroom supplies. Godwin vows to encourage lawmakers to increase funding instead of just moving it around.
“We’re already underfunded, period,” said Godwin in her interview.
This is where Godwin’s call goes against Senate Bill 580. Wells noted that many school districts across North Carolina have misspent money intended for teacher supplies.
“In the past, that $50 million hasn’t gone straight to classroom teachers,” said Wells. “Instead, the money was paid to local school boards, which turns out to be a mistake.”
It has proven to be nearly impossible to trace the money back to what the local school boards have spent it on.
“The short answer is the bureaucrats used the money to pay for other things on their to-do list and left teachers paying for their own classroom supplies,” said Wells. A former teacher from Charlotte, he recalls the times where he did not have enough copy paper which resulted in him using his own money or rely on donations to keep his class going.
“The N.C. Classroom Supplies Program (SB 580) would allow every teacher to have direct control of $400 for classroom supplies in their classroom,” said Johnson. “Each teacher will be able to determine how to best spend those $400 for their classroom needs.If we truly want to treat teachers as professionals, if we truly want to put our money where our trust is, let’s show teachers we trust them to make the right decisions for their classrooms.
If approved, SB 580 will start next school year. It would be mandatory for public schools, but charter schools could opt out if they choose to. The bill is primarily sponsored by Wells, Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Surry) and Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Guilford). A companion bill is expected to follow.
Godwin issued a word of caution to teachers who are excited about receiving the direct funding for their classrooms.
“On the surface, when they hear about it, they’re going to think, ‘Wow! This is awesome,’” said Godwin. “But $400 isn’t going to get your very far in a classroom.”