News Story

State Says Schools Must Provide Classroom Supplies

Michigan Constitution requires school districts to pay, not teachers

Before the start of the school year, a radio host in Grand Rapids posted a plea on the station’s website, requesting contributions to help teachers pay for out-of-pocket classroom expenses.

“It’s time for kids to go back to school, which means it’s also time for teachers to dip into their own money to buy supplies they’ll need for their classroom during the next school year,” wrote Rob Sparks of WLHT-FM. “Usually, this is art supplies, extra notebooks, crayons, resource books, flexible seating, books to read, etc. and it adds up, money-wise, for a group that's already not paid enough.”

And this week, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, the state’s second-largest teachers union union, weighed in. It applauded Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for proposing a $25 million fund “to reimburse teachers directly for out-of-pocket costs they incur for classroom supplies, with a maximum allotment of $250 per teacher.”

The Michigan Constitution already requires districts to supply all the items students need.

When asked, the Michigan Department of Education pointed to a 1972 position statement from the State Board of Education.

That statement referenced a 1970 Michigan Supreme Court ruling, Bond v. the Public Schools of Ann Arbor, which held that public schools must furnish any materials needed.

“But some teachers dip into their own pockets if they want more or better supplies,” said MDE spokesman Bill DiSessa in an email.

The Michigan Department of Education says that school districts must provide the following items free of charge for any course:

• Pencils, paper, crayons, scissors, glue sticks

• Textbooks (regular or supplemental)

• Weekly readers or other periodicals if required for classroom use.

“If students need a pencil for class, the district must provide it,” said Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “The [governor’s proposal] is unnecessary; Michigan’s constitution already requires that all necessary items be paid for by the district. The only way this reimbursement should arise is if a teacher is buying supplies that are not necessary.”