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Our Spending Habits and Priorities Are Totally Screwed Up

A while back, I had an unplanned conversation with an old friend about the expense of sending kids to school. Not having children myself, I don’t have first-hand experience with the costs involved, but I am smart enough to know that it costs a lot to raise a child. In fact, that’s the number one thing I hear my friends talk about – just how much money it costs! But my conversation with my friend was about the cost of school supplies they needed to purchase per the teacher’s request, because the public school district couldn’t afford to supply the items the classroom needed. We weren’t talking a lot of money here; rather, we were probably talking about maybe $40-$50 in supplies, or just enough to have enough on hand for their kid and to help cover the costs for those who truly couldn’t afford to spend the money. My friends have enough money to spend $50 on school supplies, especially considering that their kids go to free (taxpayer supported) public school. And yet, here I was listening to them complain about having to buy supplies with statements like:

A. the taxes they already pay should cover it
B. the teacher shouldn’t need this much stuff
C. they shouldn’t have to help cover the poor kids

I was absolutely flabbergasted by their attitude about not only spending a pretty minute amount of money, but also that they were doing so over money needed for their child’s education. For a family who definitely has the money to spend, taking issue with buying a few dollars in school supplies for their own and some needy kids seems misguided. That could be the end of the story, and I still would have been sitting there with a gaping mouth, but it wasn’t, because the week before this conversation happened one of their FB status updates was…

“Just installed our new 50” flat-screen TV in the living room. Bring on Monday Night Football!”

I’m not kidding. It’s not that they spent the money on the TV that annoyed me, as I myself have a big flat-screen TV in my living room, and it was worth the money. It’s that just a week later they were taking issue with spending $50 on school supplies for their child’s education! They would rather either have the kids go without supplies or have the teacher making $25,000 per year buy the supplies for their kids than shell out a few bucks to help out the classroom.

It really seems to me that our priorities have gotten truly screwed up, and I don’t know how we can get them back in line. Conservatives are no longer fiscally conservative, Liberals are no longer socially liberal, and I have friends who value spending cash on a new flat-screen TV more than they value buying pencils for their children. Education used to be an important value we all shared, but now it’s the first thing cut when it’s time to chop up the budget. When I went to school, I had music, art, drama, woodworking, and assorted other classes, along with a daily recess and gym period. Now, lots of kids barely get a recess and have lost all the extracurricular activities that help to form what kind of adult they will become. And some parents don’t even want to chip in a few bucks to help out. Our priorities are so out of whack.

What are your opinions on this? Am I right to feel this way, or am I making this into something much bigger than it needs to be? When it comes to kids, I really think we should be making sure they get everything they need to be a success in life, even if we need to cut back on other things in life in order to do so. What do you think?

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Comments (22)

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  1. Maggie says:

    Absolutely. We have a contentious school levy on the ballot. Now until last Feb I had been sending my kdis to parochial school and was used to the supplies, fundraisers and tuition. Now my youngest is in public school. I value education. My district is one of the vest in the state. I have heard other parents complain that there are too many administrators (why does a high school with 2599 students need 4 assistant principals!?) the teacher’s pension fund is too high. Good grief! One parents at a football game looked at me and asked “You pay taxes and tuition? How do you do that?”

  2. Kasey says:

    It is annoying to get a big list of school supplies presented as a “must buy” when they’re really more of a donation that’s not optional. And that is true regardless of whether it’s money you “have” or don’t have.

  3. Mary says:

    I totally agree with you. We do have our priorities screwed up. I hope this way of thinking (TV before school supplies) is not the norm; however, there seems to be considerable evidence that it is.

  4. Jody Morrisey says:

    I hear your frustration. When I was a kid..a long time ago…education was the most important think I had to do. Now as a grandparent I try to do everything I can for the schools that my grands go to. Not long ago Walmart had some nice composition books for 25 cents a piece! I bought 30 of one kind and 30 of another kind and gave them to my daughter…30 for my grandsons room and 30 to give up at the front desk for a room in need. I spent 15 dollars and believe I got a LOT for my money. These are the kids that will turn into the nurses, aides, grownups, etc that will take care of US as we grow old. Don’t they deserve OUR care now?

  5. TwinsMama says:

    I totally agree with you David. It sickens me that so many people complain about school supplies but buy top of the line everything else. It seems selfish. Even when times are tight, we keep the education budget pretty healthy in our home.

    I would rather make sure my child gets what they need than to get wants for me. If that means that I am also donating for a child that is less fortunate to have the supplies they need…so be it. The way we raise our children and show value for them and their education comes back 10-fold when they become productive, tax paying citizens.

    Our future depends on a bright, educated, and responsible population. Whether kids are schooled in public, private, or at home…they deserve the first cuts. Period.

    BTW, I also think when we give them the first cuts as children…they tend to be willing to do the same for the next generation. (Everyone gets their turn) I watched that in my family and community and see the benefits big time!

  6. PK says:

    Keep in mind that many people would be fine with the lists if they were truly for “their kid”, but they aren’t. Many times the items go into one big grab bag or pile. Sure for things like the box of tissues that makes sense, but to have everyone’s crayons or colored pencils go in one big bucket is just dumb. I hated it when I was a kid and some moron had gone and broken all of the crayons.
    If the child tries to keep their required purchase items that EVERYONE is supposed to buy, they are told that they are sharing well. Why the hell do they have to share their stuff when everyone was supposed to buy the same darn thing?!
    Lastly, my public school was a charter school and could not pass levies on taxpayers. Even operating on a greatly reduced budget per student, the school operated fine without donations, tuition, or school supply lists. You bought your own notebook, your own paper, your own pencils, and calculator. When my school could operate on $5k per student, it’s ridiculous to have to bring in more supplies for districts getting $15-20k per student!

  7. PK says:

    sorry “aren’t sharing well”

  8. Jesse says:

    Bear in mind this is coming from someone without kids or a TV…but I’m with you David. I remember the ‘required’ shopping list that came from my public school every summer, and despite being in a middle-high income district there were still shortcomings that we were asked to help meet. It’s sad that our education system is in this state, but I fear it will take major changes from both the bottom up and the top down to effect the changes that are necessary.

  9. David says:

    “Why the hell do they have to share their stuff when everyone was supposed to buy the same darn thing?!”

    I wrote why in the article. That’s why teachers/classrooms ask.

    I will never agree with punishing the child because one doesn’t agree with school policy/school board. If one doesn’t like the way a school is run, work to change it – don’t punish the children.

  10. I fully agree. I’m teaching an art class now, and if I had to provide supplies out of my own pocket, I’d probably lose money by teaching crafting to these kids. I do love teaching, but I’ve also got bills to pay! Luckily, the PTA at this school rocks and gave me a supplies budget.

  11. nan says:

    I had to buy extra supplies for both my kids in public school (charter schools, which get less money than ‘regular’ public schools here in NM). It annoyed me, not that I had to spend the extra money, which was a burden, but that the funding cuts in education precipitated it. Our education system is so screwed up. It’s the first one to receive cuts and the last to pass out raises, let alone praise. There needs to be enough money to pay teachers and admin decently, give them incentives to stay (turnover is high), and supply copy paper to the offices and tissue to students.

    I think what irks your friend is that it’s an unnecessary expense that the education system should be providing, not parents, no matter what their income level. It doesn’t have to do with not wanting to provide for their child’s education or helping others. It’s more that it just shouldn’t be that way, and I think it was expressed poorly.

    Having worked in a charter school for several years, I can go on and on about budget cuts that should never have been. It’s tragic that our schools are the way they are. Children are so special, but they are treated so poorly by our government.

    (You knew I’d have an opinion on this, right? lol)

  12. David says:

    Actually, it kind of does have to do with them not wanting to help other kids.

  13. nan says:

    That’s sad.

  14. nan says:

    Is this who I think it is?

  15. Tired says:

    Personally I don’t agree that all the expense for school attendance is necessary. The state that I live in never has had enough money, no matter how much more they get. They are top heavy with administrators and considerable waste. They can no longer afford upkeep on the school grounds and want parents to tend the yard, mowing, weeding, etc.

    It is the same here, buy supplies and they are put in a community pile. In addition to what you purchase there a lot of community school supply drives.

    Give me a break. In addition our students are academically in worse shape than 15 years ago when less money was spent per student.

  16. Briana @ GBR says:

    David I’m with you on this. Priorities are all screwed up. It’s funny; my ex-step-mom is the same way. She just bought a brand new big screen TV, she goes on unnecessary trips to the Bahamas and Miami and wherever else, but she complains when my brother needs extra money since he’s away at college, or when my younger sister, who’s a high school senior this year, needs money for college applications. The vain lifestyle is so alluring to some people, they don’t realize how dumb they sound. But, like you, I’m not sure how to fix it because if you say anything to those people, they’ll try to justify how they feel.

  17. Reminds me of a classic bumper sticker I just saw on a car today—

    “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

  18. Mommy Mel says:

    I have absolutely no problem with completing the list provided by the teachers. I also ask during the year if they need anything. I also contribute to the after school program for the monthly parties where they celebrate the birthdays. To me it’s a no brainer because my child is there. For 8 hours per day. I want to make sure that they whatever tools they need to do their best in addition to whatever is at home. I also serve on the PTA and know that budget cuts tend to hit education first. I don’t begrudge a teacher’s salary or pension. They worked for it and I’m working on my own. I do abhor waste though and will take issue to that.

  19. carrieoki says:

    I so agree w/ your post. Peoples’ priorities need to change. Am currently involved w/ midterm elections. This is post I left on the “Foreign Policy” website–
    It’s very simple. I want my children and grandchildren and the children of the world to go to bed on full stomachs. I want all those children to be able to go to school in the morning. I want all those children to be healthy w/ access to medical care, or have medical care when they are ill. That should be the thrust of our political goals.

  20. Firstly, kudos to you for recognizing such an issue even while not having children of your own!

    While I think there are two sides to every story (sometimes a district can mismanaged money so much that it hurts schools and requires parents and teachers to pay for more than they should), in this case it appears that the parents care more about what they have than giving children what they need to succeed. There is nothing wrong with wanting things if you can afford them, but put education first! I’d like to see them when they are older and complaining their child can’t hold down a job, comes home for money, or worse that businesses, hospitals, or the country is run by a bunch of ignorant people…imagine that!

    Education should be #1 to everyone…even those without children. If anyone thinks it won’t affect them, then they are sadly mistaken! It affects everyone that will depend on someone else in the future. The more educated our children are now, the better our country could be in the future.

    As a mother the only thing that irks me about the school lists is that the schools put out a generic list, but the teachers change it all up after school starts to suit their classes. I totally understand the change, but it makes me leery to buy supplies until after I know who the teacher will be and what they will really be able to use so there is no waste.

    Great post here! I love the topic and that it creates conversation!

  21. zaci1 says:

    “.. they value buying pencils for their children”

    If the school bought the pencils in bulk, they would cost about 0.2$ per pencil. With 50$? 50/0.2=250 pencils per child per year.

    Try using up 20 pencils per month if you don’t know what i mean.

    So if they are not buying pencils with the money what then?
    Well i can only speak for the schools i went to, and due to my nice parents i didn’t pay a cent for it. It seemed strange to me even as a kid.
    Every year new art supplies, even if the old ones are 5/6 full. Notebooks one for each subject most of which will probably be 1/10 full at the end of the year. Textbooks that will only be checked in the beginning of the year and than never required again. Textbooks out of which one passage will be read but will have to be carried around all year long.
    Im already hearing all the teachers here, yeah, you are not like that. Whatever. Thats only what my experiences are. 50$ is a huge amount of money for school supplies, not because its a large amount of money, but because regular supplies are actually quite cheap.

  22. zaci1 says:

    huh sorry for the double post, but i just remembered another awesome money draining technique that is employed at my brother’s high school.
    The school actually bought Macs for every classroom and installed Windows on every one of them. Simply brilliant, isn’t it?
    If i had kids, being suspicious of any amount of money to give to a school would be very high on my priority list.

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