“Money for nothing and my chicks for free.” — Mark Knopfier/Gordon Sumner
Every once in awhile it feels good to worry about small stuff. We can only handle death, pestulance, and destruction for so long. Governing is about the big stuff, but the big stuff doesn’t happen that often. In between you you have the small stuff. Governing is more about the small stuff than the big stuff. We nickel and dime are way through life.
The measure of whether someone is a good legislator or not is not made by what we see in public. Good legislators handle numerous items for their constituents on a daily basis. The bad ones can’t be bothered. Unfortunately, we don’t see this part of the job broadcast for everyone to see.
State representative Jacey Jetton has introduced a small bill before the state legislature to make school supplies tax exempt for teachers. This would mark a savings of 8.25 percent in most locations. I always loved how people would go nuts over the tax free weekend. Most stores offer steeper discounts for an Assistant Manager’s Day sale.
All that being said, we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Every little bit helps. Still, it probably should go without saying that we should look at the history of this issue to get a handle on how we should proceed from here. The federal income tax code used to give teachers a 250 dollar tax rebate on their expenditures for the classroom. It usually wouldn’t cover everything, but it put a nice dent into it. That rebate went away.
Meanwhile, the costs of doing business continues to go up. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at your bill for outfitting your kids every fall. Inflation has something to do with it, but we noticed something else the past few years. Suddenly, most of what we were spending wasn’t going to our daughter. It was going to the teacher and other students in the class.
This becomes a vicious ccyle. Fewer and fewer families can afford the $100 plus bill that comes with school supplies. So, they ask parents that can afford it to buy extra for the other families. This includes pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, backpacks, and items you normally wouldn’t associate with learning like kleenex, antibacterial sprays and dispensers, and dry erase markers. Some of that is for the other students and some is for the teacher.
Otherwise, the teacher buys those supplies. They buy those markers, cleaning supplies, extra paper, pens, notebooks and other supplies. They also buy stuff for bulletin boards like posters, borders, and other decorative items. The pandemic obviously has added to this. When students can’t afford their own supplies they pick up the slack.
The solution is not all that simple. Schools could offer more money for supplies, but that money often gets tied up into budget bullshit land where you have umpteen million accounting rules you have to follow. Departments have to agree on exactly what they are going to buy. They have to buy it from specific vendors. Then, they wait for their requests to eek through the wheels of accounting as supplies needed now might get here by next fall. Most teachers obviously bypass this process and just get it themselves. After all, little Johnny needs that notebook today, not next fall.
So, offering teachers tax exempt status on items they personally buy may seem small, but it’s something. Returning the 250 dollar tax rebate would also be nice. Spending more on PPE would also be nice. The biggest positive of the last year is that schools have been forced to enter the 21st century. As much as old heads like me might decry technology, it might be the best thing that has happened to education.
Instead of spending money on paper, pens, and pencils, students get issued a laptop where they do their work. Yes, there is an obvious learning curve involved there, but going paperless is a lot more affordable for families. It’s a lot more affordable for teachers too. Naturally, that involves some upfront costs for districts and schools. They have to buy the computers. They have to update their networks to increase capacity. They have train teachers and students on how to use these computers. It’s not easy.
Some people will poke fun at Mr. Jetton for contributing pennies on the dollar. Pennies are better than nothing. As long as everyone acknowledges that more needs to be done then I’m fine with the measure. Unfortunately, in situations like this, we find that legislatures usually pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on a job well done.