Why some schools ask parents to pay for classroom supplies

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It has become a common theme among schools across Rhode Island.

In addition to buying new clothes, backpacks and notebooks as their children prepare to go back to school, parents in communities throughout the state are also being asked to help stock classrooms with basic supplies that used to be paid for by school districts.

An Eyewitness News review of school expenditures shows Rhode Island public schools spent about $15 million on supplies during the 2016-17 school year, with districts often dedicating less than 1% of their total budgets to classroom necessities like paper, crayons and scissors. Now schools are turning to families to chip in, providing parents lists of needed supplies that can cost between $50 and $100.

“The lists are compiled by the teachers, so they typically plan out the year,” Johnston Superintendent Dr. Bernard Di Lullo told Eyewitness News. “They decide what is needed for the students and a lot of the supplies are organizational supplies.”

Some Johnston schools, including Brown Avenue Elementary School, post school supply lists on their websites. One second grade list included a box of crayons, highlighters and folders as well as paper towels, tissues and disinfecting wipes.

In Johnston’s case, 98% of its elementary school budget goes toward salaries and benefits for school employees, totaling $6.9 million. In the current fiscal year, approximately $69,000 will be spent on education supplies. In Providence, less than 1% of school spending is allocated for supplies.

But the materials have to come from somewhere, which leaves parents and teachers to foot the bill.

A report published this year by Deloitte Consulting shows parents will spend about $501 per student on back to school clothes and supplies for the 2017-18 school year. Behind Christmas, back to school time is the second-largest shopping season of the year, Deloitte said. A survey of 674 teachers from across the country conducted by SheerID and Agile Education Marketing shows educators expect to spent $468 on supplies during the school year.

Public schools can’t legally require parents to pay for school supplies – and some don’t even ask. Other communities, like Providence, hold backpack giveaways where students can come away with most of the supplies they’ll need for the year.

Di Lullo said he’s hopeful Johnston can move away from its supply lists in the coming years.

“We do want to move away from that and we want to have students be able to access books on their laptop,” he said. “We are into that transition phase and as we move forward, we are expecting all of those supplies will be diminished.”

Continue the discussion on Facebook

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan