Monday, August 06, 2007

The School Supply Tax

This weekend, my wife and I took our girls to Target to buy school supplies for my oldest daughter. The Peanut is starting Kindergarten this year and we dutifully took the school supply list (below) to buy the supplies. My wife had picked up the list from Peanut's school and I had not seen it until yesterday.

The longer I looked at the list, the madder I got. Here is the list:

1 black & white composition book
1 pack of yellow pencils
1 pack of colored pencils
1 pack of colored, washable, markers
1 zippered storage container (5" x 8")
1 24-pack of crayons (labeled with child's name)(preferably Crayola)
3 pocket folders (with prongs, 2 yellow and 1 green)
1 pair of child-size scissors (we prefer Fiskar brand-labeled with child's name)
6 large glue sticks
1 box of tissues
1 box of gallon-size ziploc bags
1 pack of stickers (seasonal or character)
4-6 pack of thin dry erase markers (we prefer Expo)

For boys only:
1 box of snack-size ziploc bags
1 bottle of hand sanitizer (not soap)
For girls only:
1 pack of sanitizing wipes
1 box of sandwich-size ziploc bags

All of this, in addition to a new backpack, a new lunchbox and clothes we have yet to buy. Now, I know, I didn't spend a lot of money on these items since Target and Wal-Mart sell all of these items for really cheap.

My beef comes with the items in italics above. More and more, the school supply lists are including materials for the teachers' use in class--supplies that in my mind should be provided by the schools. By providing these supplies for the school, we are paying another school tax--a tax we shouldn't have to pay and a tax that goes up every year and disproporionately affects parents with several children in the schools.

I realize that tissues and sanitizers help reduce the spread of colds and viruses and are thus valuable, arguably necessary, items (although by how much the spread of viruses and bacteria is reduced would be a wonderful study to conduct because I would argue not very much). I still don't know what the ziplocs are for right now, particularly the three different sizes, but I suppose I will find out. Dry erase markers clearly will not be for my daughter's use, since dry erase markers, unless used on a dry erase board, are quite permanent.

I pay a pretty penny in federal, state, and local taxes that support my local schools. I do so grudgingly and did so even when my kids are not in the schools. Why aren't the schools providing tissues, sanitizers and dry erase markers?

For parents with the means to buy supplies, we are expected to buy supplies. For children from families without means, these supplies are either provided free or at reduced cost (although just about everyone can find a quarter for a pack of crayons or pencils). Clearly the issue is not solely about money.

The trend of more and more parental input in supply matters is troubling. As school spending has skyrocketed over the past 30 years or so, it seems as though less and less is being provided by the schools. Parents are being asked to dig into their wallets for items that would reasonably be considered paid for through taxes. Why can't the school buy sanitizing wipes and tissues? Why aren't huge bottles of Purell not available in every classroom courtesy of the county (which would seem to have an interest in healthy kids)? Why can't the county supply dry erase markers? On that score, why does a teacher need 4-6 dry erase markers from every kid (call it 20 in a class)? What are 80-120 dry erase markers for any way?

My question is why do I and every other parent have to provide these supplies?

The answer, this school supply list is a scam, it is a "tax," a means of forcing parents to pay more for the public education system beyond the personal needs of their child and their already hefty tax payments. The school system gets the parents to buy "school supplies" so the system doesn't have to do the heavy lifting of determining what supplies are needed and how to pay for them. The school doesn't have to manage inventory, track useage rates, and all the other matters involved in supply provision and control. If schools need something or the teachers need something, they simply add it to the list of "school supplies" for each pupil and then "tax" each student to provide for the common "good." It doesn't matter to the schools, for there is a steady stream of new parents and new students each year to "tax."

The school supply tax is the perfect governmental scheme of passing responsibility onto the "tax payer" and shirking accountability for the use of the taxes.

Update (8/7/07, 3:16pm): In response to Kimberly's comments. As to the tissues, I too had tissues in my supplies, but they were for my use, not a "tax" levied upon each child. The school provided tissues in my elementary school, so there was no supply tax.

Thanks for shedding light on the ziploc bags. However, it still does not address why the school needs three different sizes and an entire box for each kid. My daughter has had a bag for her pre-school that she never lost in two years.

Kimberly mentions that she bought big bottles of Purell (or a similar product) herself. This is exactly the kind of expense that neither teachers nor the parents should have to bear. I hope that Kimberly claims these expenses on her tax return every year as unreimbursed employment expenses.

While teachers have a tax law out, parents do not. The school supply tax actually increases over time as teh supplies for classroom use actually expand during the child's elementary school education (although they tend to drop in middle and high school).

I know the outlay is not large--perhaps ten dollars for my family, but it is the principle of the whole matter. As school budgets have expanded, school provided supplies on what I would consider basics have actually declined. Furthermore, because these supplies are a tax levied at the beginning of each year, the schools, I am positive, have no data on useage. Does a school or a class really go through 120 dry erase markers in a year? Does it really use 20 bottles of hand sanitizer? What happens to any surplus supplies at the end of the year? There is no data and no accountability for this tax.


Kimberly said...

I consider tissues to be a standard part of the supply list along with crayons, because that is what I grew up with. My school district will provide tissues for the classroom, but they are those horrible ones that feel like sand paper.

Unless your daughter is going to be using a dry erase slate, you should not have to purchase the dry erase pens. Our school uses dry erase slates - and teachers buy the dry erase pens. That way we can get the kind without an odor.

The hand sanitizer, does the school have sinks. We have a sink in each pod, and sinks in the bathrooms. I keep a big bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk. I use it between classes, and during classes if they have the sniffles.

I teach technology, so I'm touching the keyboards all the time. If a child needs to clean his/her hands, I give them a choice of sink with soap or sanitizer. I go through 1.5 of the big bottles a year, and have 600+ students a week. These I purchase myself. I give the kids a choice, because I remember my hands blistering from the school soap.

The ziploc bags will be used to hold pieces of projects as your child works on them, to send home projects/learning games she makes, and to hold manipulatives for math and science. It is much quicker for the teacher to hand each child a ziploc bag with his/her supply of manipulatives than to count the out each time.

Is your child's list from the teacher or the district? Our district keeps including things our teachers do not want. For example a 3" binder. This does not fit into the desk. Because our 6th grade campuses use them (no lockers/no backpacks everything in the binder), they are included on the 5th grade list so 5th grade teachers can teach the kids how to keep their notebooks before they move to 6th grade.

The problem with that logic is that the 6th graders only have the binders to carry home - no backpacks - no textbooks. At the beginning of the year they take all the textbooks home and keep them there. Then there is a set in the classroom that they use during the day.

5th graders have to take the books back and forth from school, if the teacher is using the books for homework. Since we have a limit on copies - we have to use the textbooks for homework some of the time. So now they have heavy notebooks and heavy textbooks. No wonder their backpacks drag on the ground.

I would prefer it if each campus could have their own supply list with teachers from each grade deciding what was needed. On our campus we would eliminate many things from the list that we don't need. Yes we have told the district but other schools want these things. Difference is the other schools have middle or high income parents - our parents don't have money for extras. A couple because of being laid off or having an illness/injury are struggling just to feed their kids.

Dew said...

Stop! What is with you whiny anti-tax activist types? So you don't like paying for school supplies for your girls and the supplies that help them learn, should have thought about that before you had them.

I don't have children and don't plan to have children, but I still pay for your kids education through my taxes, and for the most part that doesn't bother me. I'd like your girls, and all the children of today, to be well educated and I am willing to pay for that. What do I get out of it? Hopefully, educated leaders for the future of our country and an educated workforce that continues to drive the economy. Heck I don't care what they do, the mere fact that education has also sorts of positive social impact is enough for me to keep paying without complaining. That is until I hear someone complaining about the unfair burden placed on them by the demands of our evil schools.

Here's an idea, how about if those of us without children, including all those who have not yet had children, those who don't intend to have children, and those whose children are grown and out of school stop paying any taxes related to your daughters' education? Let that happen for just two years (you of course now get to pick up the full bill) of your children's education and I bet you never complain again about the over burdensome extra school taxes you pay today.