Quite frequently when scrolling through social media I read stories about teachers spending out of pocket money to purchase basic school supplies.
When I read these stories I feel bad for teachers. I reflect on my own teaching experiences in the Chicago Public Schools and the Sarasota Public Schools and recall this same scenario. At the beginning of each year we were given a very small budget for purchasing classroom materials.
Diving deeper into each article, I read how school districts lack the financial resources to purchase basic items for their educators. Each story typically involves a quote from a school leader describing the "lack of funding afforded to their school."
As a former high school principal and current superintendent I've had the unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of school finance. I've had a chance to see how money is allocated and prioritized.
I have come to a conclusion other leaders may not appreciate hearing: Districts should have the funds to purchase basic school supplies assuming money is budgeted and allocated properly.
Sure, the money distributed to public schools could always be better. Schools everywhere would welcome greater financial support.
However, districts should find a way to ensure teachers never spend their own money on basic supplies. Furthermore, teachers who are being told there is no money in the budget for basic supplies are being failed by school leadership.
Let's take a step back and think about human needs.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that people are motivated to fulfill "basic needs" before moving on to other, more advanced needs. In the context of schools, one could make a case that school supplies are among the most essential necessities.
Let me be clear, "basic needs" does not mean laminating machines for every teacher or 3D printers for every student. Rather, I'm talking about fundamental supplies, resources, and equipment needed for a classroom to operate.
Another piece of research supporting the concept of meeting basic employee needs comes from Gallup's Elements of Great Managing research. For management to be effective, research indicates all employees should "have the materials and equipment to do their work right." Leaders who are not able to provide employees with basic necessities create an environment of disengagement, poor morale, and high turnover.
No one can argue that teaching is stressful. As school leaders, we must explore every opportunity to remove barriers for our staff and place them in the best position to be successful. Purchasing school supplies for staff members is a great place to start.
In our district we are getting better at allocating funds for teachers to meet these needs. We have created a mindset where it is the responsibility of the school - not the teacher - to purchase basic supplies.
When I meet with our new teachers, I tell them we will purchase whatever they need to be successful. The last thing a recent college graduate should worry about is shelling out hundreds of dollars for school supplies before receiving their first paycheck.
While we aren't quite where we want to be, our employees appreciate hearing their basic needs will be met. By purchasing supplies, resources, and books for our teachers, we are giving them an opportunity to focus on what is most important: Kids.
Next time you read about educators using out of pocket money purchasing basic school supplies please empathize for those individuals. Then, realize this may not be a school funding issue.
This could be a reflection of school leadership’s inability to problem solve and create a prioritized budget.