Missing from school-supply list: full funding

School-supply shopping is a frustrating scavenger hunt.

Every summer, it’s the same thing. The list the school provides is a mile long and I have to drive to three different stores to find everything at a reasonable price. Sometimes this process takes weeks, because nothing is ever on sale at the same time.

And why, oh why, are black dry erase markers so elusive?

To confound matters further, the really good deals, like 1-cent “school” glue, aren’t on my list. I’m supposed to buy Elmer’s Glue, not generic, and Ticonderoga pencils.

I understand the reasoning behind special requests; some glue lasts longer than others and some pencils are easier to sharpen. The difference between regular and low-odor dry erase markers is also huge, especially for people with chemical sensitivities. But buying the name-brand items can turn a $20 list into $50 fast.

What I really don’t understand is why Washington public schools don’t automatically provide students with scissors. California classrooms usually have a permanent set. They are shiny silver metal and reasonably sharp.

Here in Washington — or at least in the Edmonds School District — scissors are on the supply list every year.

I’ve been school-supply shopping a long time, even before I became a mother. I once taught at a Title I school in East Palo Alto, Calif., the former murder capital of America. Every child at that school qualified for free and reduced lunch. My classroom never had enough paper, pencils or dry erase markers, but at least we had scissors.

Of course, I’m not sure what we were supposed to do with the scissors since there weren’t any materials for art except what I bought myself.

Once, one of my third-graders named Gerardo came into school with a fistful of dry-erase markers.

“Teacher, Teacher,” he said, excitedly. “Look what I brought you.”

Gerardo had gone the night before to a Silicon Valley office that his father cleaned as a janitor. Lo and behold, there were dry-erase markers everywhere. Gerardo knew that our classroom was down to our last pen, so he took some.

Gerardo was my 8-year-old Robin Hood, so I accepted the markers. But we did have a friendly conversation about ethics. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? Ethics.

We say that public school is free, but really it isn’t. Children across Washington are still waiting for Olympia to fully fund basic education. I’ll remember that when I vote.

Some kids will come to school this September with backpacks stuffed with goodies and other kids won’t. Some teachers will get $300 checks from the PTA to buy supplies and other teachers will have nothing but their own paychecks. What my children experience depends on my neighborhood and me.

So let the school supply-scavenger hunt begin. Last one to the black dry-erase markers is a rotten egg.

Jennifer Bardsley blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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