Texas bill aims to pay teachers back for classroom supplies

School supplies collected by St. Mary's School in Fredericksburg for Louisiana flood victims. (Courtesy: Mignonne Frantzen)
School supplies collected by St. Mary's School in Fredericksburg for Louisiana flood victims. (Courtesy: Mignonne Frantzen)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A proposed bill in the Texas House would reimburse some teachers for purchases made using personal money for classroom expenses. House Bill 54 would pay eligible teachers up to $600 back for classroom supplies and other school-related purchases.

“Any little bit helps,” San Antonio Independent School District Kindergarten teacher David Garza said after testifying in front of the House Committee on Public Education. There have been plenty of times where Garza said he’s had to  make a trip to a store to pick up pasta for a science experiment or shaving cream for a language arts lesson.

“These costs are real,” said Garza. “It affects us every day, and this is something that would definitely help us as educators. Just make sure that we can make those costs, that we are able to really ensure that we can help our students, and not just help our students, but thrive as ourselves as educators.”

The bill, by Rep. Shawn Thierry, D- Houston, would apply to people who teach sixth grade and below.

“What we found is that it’s really elementary school teachers who are having the issue,” Thierry explained regarding the eligibility.

Another San Antonio ISD employee, who teaches high school math, testified he has had to skip meals on occasion, in order to buy materials for his students.

Public Education Committee chair Rep. Dan Huberty, R- Houston, reminded the committee that teacher reimbursement programs have not historically worked in Texas. “Several years ago they had money that was appropriated by the state, it was matching funds,” Huberty mentioned. “And it was very rarely used because of the cumbersomeness of the reimbursement process.”

The funding for the reimbursements were initially to be pulled from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The Legislative Budget Board estimated the total amount would add up to approximately $107.3 million if all eligible teachers used all $600.

According to LBB, the Texas Education Agency estimates there are 178,751 classroom teachers instructing grades 6 and below in school year 2016-17.

“Costs would be lower to the extent that teachers do not seek reimbursement at the maximum level,” according to the LBB report.

Opponents worry that pulling from the state’s Rainy Day Fund could create other problems down the road.

Huberty suggested lawmakers ought to put additional funding in the state’s budget in order to prevent lower teacher pay, so there would not be a need for HB 54.

“There may be some roadblocks, whenever it comes to tapping into the rainy day fund,” Garza stated. “It always seems that there seems to be some resistance there.”

The bill would take effect for the 2017-2018 school year if passed through both the House and Senate.

 

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