August 21, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: School supply lists embody poor priorities


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

This region’s voters are generous to schools, routinely agreeing to tax themselves for levies aimed at educational enrichment. So how is it that annual drives are needed each year to make sure less fortunate children have basic items like backpacks, notebooks and pencils? How is it that parents are faced with lengthy lists of school supplies to purchase?

These lists contain dozens of items and the cost can run from $60 to as high as $100 if parents choose the “optional” or “recommended” items such as calculators and computer flash drives. (By the way, many parents don’t appreciate the conundrum of either buying the optional items or potentially putting their children at a disadvantage.) Savvy merchants have picked up on the trend and display the school lists right next to the supplies.

The truth is that your child doesn’t need all of these items in the quantities requested. The remainder is for the children who show up without supplies. Teachers also dig deep into their own finances to round out the purchases.

These lists ought to be turned over to local school boards. Before they decide on administrative expenses, such as the thousands of dollars in annual raises for top administrators, they ought to ensure that students will have basic supplies. It’s true that levy money ought to be spent on the advertised items, but perhaps it’s time to run a levy for school supplies. Financing enrichment programs before covering basic supplies is backward. It’s also true that the state Legislature ought to be financing basic education.

But what shouldn’t occur is the annual begging for supplies from taxpayers who have already been hit up via property taxes and local levy elections. As is, school board members can rely on the compassionate among us to cover the shortfall, thus freeing up funds for other things. But if it were their responsibility, the lists would be shortened to “needs” rather than “wants.” Items such as baby wipes and Ziploc bags would be zapped. Plus, school boards could pressure lawmakers to come up with the money.

The Spokesman-Review has reported that school supply drives in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene are falling short of their goals. Because of the recession, donations are lagging and the demand is growing. We laud these groups for trying to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots. But these drives ought to be unnecessary.

Just as we don’t pass the hat to pay school power bills, we shouldn’t have to count on charity for basic educational tools. It’s difficult enough to close the achievement gap in education without exacerbating it with a supply gap.

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