Under a recently introduced bill, teachers would be directly responsible for using $400 to buy school supplies through the N.C. Classroom Supply Program, but not everyone is sold on the proposal.

During a news conference Wednesday, April 3, Republican lawmakers and State Superintendent Mark Johnson unveiled Senate Bill 580 to give teachers direct purchasing power over their classroom supplies. Now, $47 million is allocated to school districts for items such as reams of paper and packs of pencils, but under S.B. 580, about $37 million would go directly to the state’s 94,000 teachers. The remaining $10 million would go to school districts for larger schoolwide purchases.

If the bill becomes law, teachers would have to make purchases through ClassWallet, an e-commerce app that can also collect and digitize receipts for reimbursement. Any purchases made before Aug. 31 would be reimbursed, but anything bought after that date would be through ClassWallet.

Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, said he introduced the bill after hearing stories about some local school districts misspending money meant to go toward classroom supplies and leaving teachers to buy what they need out-of-pocket.

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

The N.C. Association of Educators opposes the bill, calling it a “shell game.”

“Clearly there is a need to provide a school supply stipend for teachers, who spend several hundred dollars annually of their own money,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said in a news release, “but the State Superintendent is rolling out a plan that just redistributes money from the currently underfunded instructional materials allotment for school districts.”

No new funds would be allocated for classroom supplies, which soured some to the proposal, including Lisa Goodwin, the 2017 N.C. Teacher of the Year.

“[S.B. 580] 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,” Goodwin said, EdNC reported. “In the grand scheme of things, it just didn’t sound like it was going to be the right choice for teachers.”

Meanwhile, some State Board of Education members and advisers have concerns about the bill.

During the April 4 SBE meeting, Tabari Wallace, the N.C. Wells Fargo Principal of the Year Advisor, said districts can get bargains when they buy in bulk. But, under this bill, teachers wouldn’t have the same negotiating power to bring down prices.

Board member Patricia Willoughby said most people would want teachers to have more money to buy supplies, but how the state goes about it is important.

“My dad was a Methodist minister. He talked about robbing Peter to pay Paul, that’s kind of an example here,” Willoughby said. “Moving forward, working collaboratively works better than just taking off and doing something individually that you might think is a good idea but could be improved if we have discussions. …”

The bill may address some of those concerns. It allows teachers to combine their buying power and “crowd-fund” supply purchases. And the $400 supply allowance shouldn’t be considered taxable income, unlike the stipend Jewell suggested, which would be.

Terry Stoops, the vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said teachers should have greater leeway to buy the classroom supplies they need.

“We trust teachers to make critical decisions about curricula, assessments, and instructional methods, so it is sensible to allow them to use the same knowledge to determine the supplies needed to teach the children in their care.”

When asked about the concerns raised by board members, Drew Elliot, the DPI communications director, said that bill filings are just the beginning of the legislative process, not the middle or the end.

“Superintendent Johnson has supported and is lobbying for the State Board’s request to increase classroom supply funding by $18 million. Neither request precludes the other,” Elliot said. “With large purchases and district flexibility in mind, the bill splits state-funded classroom supplies between teacher control and district control.”