Evergreen Public Schools made a sweeping gesture toward eliminating financial barriers for students on Friday.
Instead of requiring families of elementary students to buy a long list of school supplies at the beginning of the school year, the district will foot the bill. The district will spend about $275,000 on school supplies for all 11,000 preschool through fifth-grade students. That’s $25 per student that parents won’t have to fork out at the beginning of the school year. The district sent letters home with each elementary student Friday.
It’s one of the ways Evergreen is ensuring equity among students and eliminating barriers for students with fewer resources, said Superintendent John Deeder. Over the past decade, the percentage of Evergreen students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch rose from 34 to 47 percent.
“My board and I have paid a lot of attention to this issue of access and equity,” Deeder said. “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. Putting no barriers up. It’s part of our initiative to support all kids to have equal access to all programs.”
Another change for Evergreen district students is that middle and high school students will not have to pay most sports, performing arts and class fees. A high school student who plays one sport and participates in a performing arts program pays about $100 per year. Other activities have similar fees that will be waived. Only consumable material fees will remain in place.
The district’s board of directors and Deeder decided to use local levy money to buy classroom sets of supplies and pay fees which prevent some students from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.
“When you don’t know the impact of something, you don’t deal with it,” Deeder said. “But when you learn the impact of things, you have a moral, ethical responsibility to do the right thing. We just passed a new levy. We’ll allocate some money in this direction.”
Over the past seven years, Evergreen has funded all-day kindergarten from local levy dollars, said Gail Spolar, district spokeswoman. But now the state is reimbursing the district for most of that expense.
“We’ll able to redeploy local levy dollars toward poverty initiatives like this,” Spolar said.
The district will also spend an additional undetermined amount of money to backfill fees at middle and high schools, Spolar said.
Families will still be responsible to provide a backpack, athletic shoes and other personal items and some school supplies for middle and high school students.
Additionally, as the district moves to a 1-to-1 ratio of technology devices for students in grades 6 through 12, fewer school supplies will be needed, Spolar said.
Here are other ways the district is working to provide equal access to all students:
? Adding four more Family and Community Resource Centers this fall, for a total of 14 centers at low-income elementary schools.
• Adding more help for more than 1,000 students who have registered as “in transition,” which means they lack stable and fixed housing.
• Supplying free- or reduced-price meals to more than 12,000 students daily without increasing meal costs for other students
• Adding no-cost activities and tutoring options and after-school activity buses for middle school students.
Evergreen Public Schools, the largest school district in Clark County and the fifth-largest in the state, serves almost 27,000 students in 37 schools.