In Our View: Free Supplies Smart Move

Other school districts should follow Evergreen’s lead on school supplies

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According to BrainyQuote, the ready-made bumper sticker philosophy came from author Robert Fulgham: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

A great day, indeed, yet one that remains far from fruition. So allow us to advocate for the next-best idea and suggest that other school districts should follow the lead of Evergreen Public Schools in providing school supplies for students.

In a program started a year ago, Clark County’s largest school district allocates about $275,000 to provide pencils and markers and facial tissues for all elementary students — preschool through fifth grade. That amounts to $25 apiece for 11,000 students. “We will not require students to bring school supplies,” district spokeswoman Gail Spolar said. “The only thing parents need to do is buy a backpack for their child, and then if they want a lunchbox.”

At the middle school and high school levels, the district is covering participation fees for athletics and other extracurricular activities in another move that saves money for families.

The relief is welcome. As any parent knows, free public education is far from free. An annual survey by the National Retail Federation found that the average parent expects to spend $114.12 on school supplies this year — in addition to even greater expenses for clothes, shoes, and school-related electronics. Add it all up, and the typical family expects to spend $687.72 on back-to-school shopping.

On top of that, there is no shortage of stories about teachers purchasing supplies for their classrooms.

As writer Jeff Bryant detailed for The Progressive: “It’s no secret why teachers and parents are paying more of the costs of educating our nation’s children. It’s because governments have been spending less on kids.” The most recent national numbers, reported by U.S. News, suggest that government spending on public education has dropped $858 per student since the 2008-09 school year. Bryant adds: “Slashing education budgets at the federal, state or local level doesn’t save money; it just shifts the costs somewhere else.”

Of course, providing school supplies comes with a cost to the Evergreen district; the money must come from somewhere, and the school-supply program followed the passage of a levy in 2016. But for parents, the benefits are worth more than the $25 per student allocated by the district. Evergreen can procure discounted supplies by buying in bulk.

Also, Spolar stressed, district officials encourage the public to contribute to school supply drives when possible; every donation helps mitigate costs to the district. Amanda Richter of Vancouver Public Schools noted that parents in that district can receive assistance with school supplies through Family-Community Resource Centers and the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools.

In announcing Evergreen’s program last year, Superintendent John Deeder, who has since retired, said: “My board and I have paid a lot of attention to this issue of access and equity. It’s built around the fact that we have almost half of our kids living in poverty. We have a strong belief that finding a place for every kid is one way to reach our goal of getting all kids to graduate.”

To that end, leaders of Evergreen Public Schools have seized upon a cost-effective way to make education slightly more attainable and slightly more affordable. Other districts should follow their lead.