Anne Arundel considering $500 gift cards to help new teachers pay for school supplies

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

A federal study found that school teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on school supplies — a fact Anne Arundel County hopes to mitigate with $500 gift cards to new teachers.

The proposal is expected to cost $300,000 and would be managed by the 21st Century Education Foundation. Details of the program — how it would be monitored and managed — are not available yet as the county is waiting until the money is approved before finishing the paperwork.

If approved by the County Council, the gift cards could help attract teachers and offset costs, said Amalie Brandenburg, County Executive Steve Schuh’s education officer.

The numbers could change as the council tweaks the budget.

“This is a ‘Welcome to the county, let us help you set up your classroom,’” Brandenburg said. “It is small, but it is something.”

In theory, first-time teachers will be given a $500 gift card as a small signing bonus to help pay for classroom supplies. Teachers often pay for classroom enhancements such as locker tags, desk nameplates, awards and other tidbits.

The plan is to give a $300,000 grant to 21st Century Education Foundation, which would then provide the cards to the teachers.

“The foundation has not done anything like this before, so we are looking forward to partnering with the county and working through the details,” said Carol Ann McCurdy, the foundation’s executive director.

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Education discovered about 94 percent of public school teachers spent their money on classroom supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-2015 school year. About 88 percent of charter school teachers bought supplies. Teachers spent their own money more often in schools with free or reduced lunch programs.

Teachers who spent money averaged about $479 with the median much lower — $297. This is because of the number of teachers who spent more than a $1,000 on school supplies.

The Anne Arundel County Public School System supports the plan because it can help teachers, who might use those supplies further down the line as well, said Bob Mosier, schools spokesman.

The gift card funding would be different than recurring instructional supplies money, which the county covered in its fiscal 2019 proposal. While the county’s proposed budget shows a total fund decrease of $478,000 for instructional supplies, Mosier said the school system’s “baseline needs are covered” and supplies for teachers not funded won’t be needed. The school system estimated about $29.5 million in instructional supplies spending in the current budget, according to county budget documents.

The county didn’t fund a $900,000 enhancement request that would have put Chromebooks into classrooms, but that is recurring funding and can’t really be compared to the one-time, $300,000 grant, Mosier said.

“This is a way to help those first-time in classroom teachers,” Mosier said. “There are things a brand new, first-time classroom teachers needs that a 7 or 8 year veteran doesn’t. They have materials they have collected over the years.”

Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, was a bit more skeptical of the program.

It can help new teachers, but Benfer asked about veteran teachers who are still buying supplies?

“What would be more helpful is recurring funds,” Benfer said. “In the past, we have gotten $100 checks for purchasing things in the classroom. How about the school system supply what we need so we don’t have to do this.”

Members of the County Council were skeptical as well. Both Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, and Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, asked for more clarification on how it will be managed.

Walker said he appreciates the effort to help first-time teachers, but the $300,000 might be better spent on new teachers or counselors.

In testimony to the council, school officials have said the 50 additional teachers would help some classrooms but overall class sizes will grow as the county’s students have grown at faster rates than teacher hiring. Schuh’s budget doesn’t include funding for new counselors.

“(Schuh) has not even stabilized based on the growth and number of students,” Walker said. “I would much prefer (more teachers) over the gift cards.”

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