The Guam Department of Education wants to take some of the costs associated with the back-to-school season off parents’ shoulders.
Around this time of year, schools would typically start issuing a list of the classroom supplies students are expected to bring to school. Pens, pencils, composition notebooks, paper, folders, markers and cleaning wipes would normally be on the list. Schools also have included reams of photocopy paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and even toilet tissue.
GDOE is hoping to pare down that list and save parents at least $100 per student, or about $2.8 million.
“We didn’t want the schools to send home any regular supply lists which ask for pens, toilet paper, all of those things. We told the schools do not send those lists home. We wanted to be able to take care of all of that,” said Joseph Sanchez, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Last year, GDOE budgeted $60 per student for classroom supplies.
“For this school year, we upped it to $100 per student,” Sanchez said. The funding that made this possible comes from several pots of COVID-19 relief funding, the Education Stabilization Fund, or ESF, ESF II and the American Rescue Plan.
Coordination for the effort was done at the school level between administrators and teachers to ensure that the supplies would be provided to students.
Teachers submitted the list of necessary classroom supplies to their administrators last school year.
“The orders started late spring in anticipation for summer and the beginning of the school year and they continue on to this day. In fact, schools continue to input requisitions for school supplies that they would need,” Sanchez said.
Reducing strain on families, teachers
The goal is to reduce the financial strain on families, according to GDOE.
According to Sanchez, a survey of back-to-school supply lists from previous years showed that the parents spent between $40 and $80 for school supplies. GDOE averaged the costs to be about $60 per student.
“In theory, this is something that the school system should be doing anyway, and we never really had the chance to do that,” Sanchez said.
Up until the pandemic, GDOE received minimal local and federal funding to cover these expenses, but with substantial COVID-19 relief funds, the department now has the funding to cover students and teachers.
$1,000 for teachers
The agency also is trying to ensure teachers won't have to dip into their personal finances to purchase supplies for their classrooms. Sanchez said $1,000 will be allocated to each GDOE teacher.
“We really wanted to make sure that those stories of teachers having to pull out of their pockets … didn’t happen this school year,” Sanchez said.
GDOE also has set aside federal funding to cover student supplies for the next two school years.
Parents will have to cover costs for school backpacks, shoes and uniforms.
GDOE, however, is working to allocate funding to help families having a tough time purchasing uniforms, which are mandatory this school year.
“We know in terms of the number of students every year the (average) number of students who have challenges with uniforms. Based on our data (it) is about 1,000 students,” Sanchez said.
This year, because many families are experiencing hardship, officials anticipate that number to increase to somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 students.
“We absolutely do not want the uniform to be the reason they do not come to school. We are really trying to emphasize that the priority is coming to school. Even if they don’t have uniforms or they don’t have enough uniforms, just come to school, we will do the best we can to support them on the uniform policy,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said GDOE is looking at possibly funding up to five sets of uniforms per student needing assistance. The funds would come from three sources, the Education Stabilization Fund, ESFII and the American Rescue Plan.
GDOE reinstated the mandatory uniform policy for the 2021-2022 school year, but Sanchez made it clear that the department will be flexible and accommodating when students return to school in August.
There are other options available to parents needing help getting uniforms. At the school level, vouchers are being provided by vendors through the Parent Teacher Organizations and consolidated grant funding. Parents can contact their children’s schools for these vouchers.
Schools also have a limited uniform bank which parents can tap into. These uniforms were donated. Some are new and some are used. They are available through the Student Support Office.