TOPEKA — Sen. Caryn Tyson says public schools and legislators for too long have ignored complaints from teachers who feel compelled to pay for classroom materials out of their own pockets.
Tyson, a Republican from Parker, told members of the Senate Education Committee this week that she and her husband donate money so teachers can purchase books and other items for students. Anybody who talks to teachers knows this is a problem, Tyson said, and she is tired of not seeing anything happen to address the problem.
“Our teachers, for some reason, they feel like they’re not respected, or second class citizens of Kansas. And that is not true,” Tyson said. “They have more impact on our lives than almost any other person that we interact with, besides family members and friends.”
One of Tyson’s proposals, which would give teachers a $250 income tax credit, already passed the Senate after being included in a bundle of other tax cuts in Senate Bill 282. The annual cost to state revenue would be about $10.4 million, based on the 44,000 teachers in the state.
The education panel held a hearing Monday on Tyson’s other plan, contained in Senate Bill 528, which would require school district to reimburse teachers for up to $250 in personal expenses for classroom supplies.
“We shouldn’t have to do this through legislation,” Tyson said. “But yet, here we are.”
Lobbyists for school boards and teachers opposed the reimbursement because it doesn’t cover many of the items teachers routinely buy, and it would force districts to redirect funding that otherwise would go toward teacher salaries and benefits.
Republicans on the committee pushed back on the idea that schools couldn’t find a way to set aside $10 million from the billions in funding they now receive from the state.
Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, recalled a time as a business teacher when the school decided to cut copy paper from the budget but still found a way to pay for administrator cellphones. She pointed out the public schools are expected to receive an additional $102 million in the upcoming school year as part of a court-mandated settlement agreement over school funding.
“It seems to me with all of the talk about teachers being unhappy, teachers being stressed out, trying to retain and recruit teachers, taking approximately 10% of the increase of funding isn’t too much to ask our school districts to prioritize what students and teachers need,” Erickson said.
Under the proposed legislation, teachers could be reimbursed for documented purchases of school supplies that are intended to be used within the current school year. The bill excludes the purchase of food, beverage or equipment.
Lauren Tice Miller, of the Kansas National Education Association, said a national study indicated the average teacher spends $459 out of pocket every year on items that often include food, clothing and hygiene products.
If legislators want to help educators with out of pocket expenses, Tice Miller said, they should appropriate the extra $10 million and earmark it for this purpose. Otherwise, she said, the pool of money that would be used to pay for classroom supplies would deny teachers a pay increase or would be unavailable to offset the rising costs of health care.
“We believe it creates a situation of robbing Peter to pay Peter,” she said.
Mark Tallman, of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said he wasn’t aware of any district that doesn’t already provide school supplies or an opportunity for reimbursement.
“Teachers are very generous,” Tallman said. “If they see they want to buy something for a child or they want to do something more special for their room, the cost doesn’t hold them back. And then, understandably, they can be kind of frustrated.”
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican who serves as chairwoman of the Education Committee, lamented the way school cafeterias dispose of leftover food instead of packaging it for students to take homes. That way, she reasoned, teachers wouldn’t feel compelled to buy food for kids.
Baumgardner encouraged local districts to find solutions for teachers who have to pay for their own classroom supplies.
“We continue to hear — not hear politely from teachers, that would be nice — but we continue to be hammered by teachers that there is no help coming from the Legislature for their out-of-pocket expenses,” Baumgardner said.
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