State changes process for teacher supply money

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi teachers will soon receive debit cards from the state to use for buying school supplies.
The state for years has provided Education Enhancement Fund money for educators to use to purchase items for their classrooms. What has changed this year is the process.
In past years, the state sent the money to school districts to divide among their teachers, who filled out purchase orders for their various requests. This year, it is issuing procurement cards directly to teachers.
Those cards were not ready in time for last week’s opening of schools throughout Northeast Mississippi, but could be sent to school districts by the middle of September, said Todd Ivey, bureau manager for the Office of School Financial Services with the Mississippi Department of Education.
The delay, Ivey said, has been caused by the time required to print 35,000 cards for teachers across the state. “That is just a first-year issue,” he said.
The amount teachers will receive this year varies by district, but it will likely be in the ballpark of $200.
Each district’s allotment of EEF money is based on its number of students, or more specifically its average daily attendance from the 2010-11 school year. That allotment is then equally distributed to a district’s teachers. That means teachers in districts that have larger student-per-teacher ratios will receive more money.
Many districts also have some teachers whose salaries are funded by federal money, and those teachers will not receive these procurement cards.
Educators likely will receive slightly more EEF money than they did last year because the Legislature allotted $8 million this year, or $2 million more than it had for the past three years, Ivey said. However, it is much less than the $600 to $700 teachers received eight or nine years ago.
“The bottom line is it is still good to know teachers are receiving money from the state to purchase things for their rooms,” said Saltillo Primary Principal Ken Smith.
There are two reasons the Legislature opted for the state to use the procurement cards this year, Ivey said. For one, it will allow teachers to directly buy the supplies they want without having to fill out purchase orders and request the money from the district.
That will save districts from having to process hundreds of orders for classroom supplies, Ivey said. It will allow teachers to make purchases more quickly.
Also, Ivey said, the Legislature has long considered ways to get the EEF money directly to teachers “and take the school district out of it all together.”
Cards will not have teacher names, but will have identification numbers that will be assigned to each teacher. They will be loaded with the amount of money that teacher is allotted, and educators will be able to use them like a credit or debit card to make purchases. Those purchases will be exempt from state sales tax. Cardholders must sign an agreement that they will buy only “authorized commodities for official school purposes” and no personal items.
“It is pretty much anything that can be used for instruction in the classroom,” Ivey said. “We have cautioned districts to caution teachers to think about what they may purchase. If someone wants to make macaroni necklaces, they will have to convince an auditor the macaroni was used in the classroom and not taken home and eaten. There are some logical, common-sense things teachers will need to do.”
A firm will review electronic records of purchases, and teachers will be required to save their receipts for five years for potential audits. Teachers will return the cards at the end of the year, and they will be reloaded and reissued next fall.
Although the cards will arrive too late for teachers to use to prepare their rooms for the start of the year, several schools said they prepared for this by making other funds available for that purpose.
Smith said Saltillo Primary had money remaining from a fundraiser last fall. Tupelo Finance Director Linda Pannell said the district’s schools have instructional budgets teachers can use. Other districts have similar budgets.
“It pushed us to buy some teacher supplies on the front end, rather than on the back end,” said New Albany Interim Superintendent Jackie Ford.
Superintendents noted teachers spend much more than $200 each year on such supplies as manipulative kits, decorations for classrooms, science kits, art supplies, class libraries and calculators, among other things.
Ivey noted the EEF money was only designed as a supplement. Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said teachers now will get that enhancement in the middle of the year, instead of at the beginning.
“The sad fact is many teachers spend a lot of their personal money to buy things for their classroom,” said Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com