Rep. Cheryl Helmer told fellow Education Committee members Monday that public schools should be required to provide $500 to every teacher to offset expenses for classroom supplies.
The Mulvane Republican said teachers in Kansas are responsible for decorating hallway bulletin boards, providing books, balls, games and puzzles, and maintaining a calm area for emotional outbursts, which require pillows and stuffed animals.
Those expenses often come from the teacher's own pocket, Helmer said. She introduced House Bill 2233 to allow for reimbursements.
"As a school counselor," Helmer said, "I know that teachers are held responsible for having their rooms adorned with educational stimulus, which both decorates and fulfills the needs to make a classroom a warm and safe learning home during the day."
Opponents to the bill include Mark Desetti, of the Kansas National Education Association, and Jerry Henn, of the Kansas School Superintendents Association.
They say the Legislature should stay focused on complying with a Kansas Supreme Court order to settle a long-standing dispute over money spent on public schools. The court approved of last year's bill to add $525 million in annual funding, phased in over five years, but said lawmakers need an upward inflation adjustment that works out to about $90 million more per year.
House Republicans intend to match the total funding levels while taking more control over how the money is spent.
Helmer's plan, if fully utilized by the state's 34,700 classroom teachers, would cost school districts more than $17 million. That would be paid out of existing funds.
"Teachers are the person who knows the child doesn't have furniture, beds, sheets, blankets, soap, the heat turned on for heat and hot water and food in the cabinets," Helmer said. "That is the teacher who tapes the shoes and then buys a pair of shoes, not only for that child for all the children in the family and usually a pair of jeans and a bag of groceries."
Rep. David Benson, D-Overland Park, pointed out none of those items would be covered by the proposed legislation. He also said the plan would be an administrative burden for districts as they try to track expenses.
Teachers couldn't use the money for food, beverages or supplies that are intended to be used for multiple years. The bill excludes superintendents, principals and other supervisors.
Henn said as a retired superintendent, he would expect schools to comply with the law by redirecting funds intended for raises, transportation and activities.
Desetti said teachers would prefer to see the $500 in the form of a raise.
“I know it might seem odd that we would be opposing a bill that would give every teacher $500, because every teacher could use $500, but frankly, there are good intentions behind this bill that I believe are very poorly conceived," Desetti said.