Monday, August 07, 2006

Part 2 - School Supplies Lists

School starts tomorrow in our world here in Pinellas County, Florida, and guess what school supplies I bought ahead of time?


My kids will go to school with something to write on and something to write with - that's all.

The school supply lists that are put out at the end of the last school year and subsequently pasted all over Walmart et al don't always resemble what the kids will actually need once school starts. Teachers change their minds, as is their perogative, but their last minute changes in their curriculum or procedures shouldn't affect a parent's wallet.

There are some things on those lists that I recommend you NOT buy at all:

paper towels
antibacterial soap
ziplock bags
textbooks or supplemental books (like a Spanish/English dictionary)
Way too expensive calculators
a preprinted, embossed with the school's logo, planner

If something is deemed a necessary material in order to be successful in the course/class, then the school is supposed to pay for it according to state statutes.

Everything else is part of a teacher's "wish" list.

Even things like a 2" three ring binder with pockets is asking too much. Teachers prescribe materials that make their lives easier. If everyone uses the same size binder and he/she needs to collect those binders for some reason, it is easier for him or her to pile next to their desk or lug home at night. Although this is understandable, it should not be required.

Teachers attempt to help organize our kids by requiring certain types of folders, notebooks, binders, etc. That's nice, but forcing parents to buy what they think is the only way to do this is not recommended.

At this point, I even caution you against buying the following:

blank disks, rewritable CD's, thumb drives/flash drives

Technology is an integral part of education at this point and schools must plan ahead for its use, and not require parents to fill in the gaps they have created.

That leads to the underlying reason why I encourage you not to buy most of what is on your school supplies list.

You're helping to cover up a big problem in education - it is underfunded.

If we all, including teachers, continue to buy all those things we think our kids need in order to be successful, then we're filling in the gaping holes in the system. You may argue, "But I don't want my child to go without," and teachers will say from the bottom of their hearts, "But I don't want my kids to do without." This is admirable, but not advisable.

If we cover up the problem, then how do we convince taxpayers and lawmakers that schools need more money?

So what should you buy?
The essentials:

paper/basic notebooks

That's it. Anything else you buy, do so because it is your choice, not because you feel coerced. If you want to buy a fancy backpack, go for it. If you want to buy a $200 graphing calculator, do it. But if you can't, don't worry about it. I'm not suggesting that you withhold from your kids what they need in order to succeed, but if it is something that will handicap them to do without, then it is really the school's responsibility to provide it.

Maybe those PTA fundraisers could go towards these kinds of supplies instead of landscaping, new basketballs for the gym, a new sound system for the auditorium, or the wireless network installation they all want now.

I encourage you to do your own homework about this issue by searching online about what your state statutes require for a free public education as well as lawsuits that have been issued against school systems about this very issue. State district attorneys have investigated this and the rulings on these cases clarify the intentions of the school supplies lists.

You'll find if you search that the issue has now surpassed the school supply lists. Schools are charging fees for lockers, parking spaces for students, higher and higher athletic fees, art fees, lab fees, and "to be determined later" fees that classroom teachers charge to cover things that may come up during the school year. This is a problem.

Do your homework. Ask your local school board what you are really responsible for according to the law. And remember, that no one dies if you don't send in that box of ziplock bags.