WASHINGTON – Maryland PTA President Elizabeth Crosby says that IBM employees aren’t asked to bring copy paper or paper towels to work. Students shouldn’t be asked to do so, either.
But parents around the state are increasingly being asked to stock up on supplies like soap and paper — in addition to the usual notebooks, pencils and assignment books for their school-age children — that many education advocates say should be provided by schools, not families.
The trend of shifting supply burdens to students has become commonplace as state budget woes have escalated.
“In Baltimore County, we basically said, ‘You supply the paper,’ ” Crosby said. “It is the responsibility of the school board to have all the supplies they need to implement the curriculum in any way. Paper towels and soap are items that need to be supplied by the school system because they are health issues.”
Most Maryland schools have lists of 10 to 20 items that children should purchase, including items for general classroom use. In addition to soap and paper, the lists include things like paper towels, antibacterial wipes, Ziploc bags, overhead markers and stickers.
Thelma Bond, parent liaison at Tench Tilghman Elementary School in Baltimore, said system-bought supplies have dwindled since she became involved with the city’s schools in 1968. This is the worst year she can remember — and she thinks the burden on parents to provide supplies will increase in years to come.
“We do run out of a lot of things because the money’s really, really short,” she said.
In low-income communities, where parents cannot always afford to buy the supplies, teachers are forced to ration or simply do without. Students from more affluent areas, meanwhile, can easily make up for the difference between what the schools buy and what the students need.
Michele Powell-Larkin, principal at Rose Valley Elementary School in Fort Washington, said that within the past three years, her school has asked parents to provide more supplies.
“It’s just a new trend and many of the schools are doing it,” Powell-Larkin said. “It just came in gradually to supplement what the county supplies.”
Prince George’s County Board of Education member Abby Crowley said individual schools “have decided to pass some of the costs on to the family.”
“It is a budget issue. Schools make a determination that they (students) can supply those supplies,” Crowley said. “Every school gets a pot of money, and they decide at that school level how they want to spend that money, whether it be a copy machine (or) school supplies.”
Crowley said kids often feel obligated to bring in the supplies, which may be the reason parents are more willing to go shopping.
Powell-Larkin said teachers have always asked students to supply tissues, because at least one child has a runny nose at any given time. But she said hand soap, antibacterial wipes and paper towels are recent additions to the list.
“I’ve never gotten one complaint, especially with the invention of the dollar store,” she said.
Like Crosby, Melanie Dahler, PTA president of Poolesville Elementary School, believes certain items should be provided by schools. Dahler said she and other parents who never had to bring general-use items to school when they were students are surprised by the ever-growing list of supplies.
But, she said, at least there is no punishment for children who do not bring the materials. And parents and teachers do donate extras for children who cannot afford the goods.
But there is no one to provide extras at places like Tench Tilghman, where the state Department of Education says 92 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. So teachers there use materials sparingly, Bond said, or not at all.
The school does ask the children to supply notebooks, index cards and tissues. Bond said she was surprised that wealthier districts ask the children to bring in soap, paper towels and other supplies.
“They have the most money,” she said. “I don’t understand that.
“In our area ? they really can’t afford it,” she added. “A lot of people don’t even have jobs. We just have to do without.”