Every year, teachers across the country appeal to parents and the public: Clear the lists! These teachers need school supplies that their schools will not fund. So, year after year, they ask others to step up where school systems have failed.

These teachers have every right to ask, and by the looks of many of these lists, they certainly have the need.  

This year, though, there is no excuse for every teacher in America to ask parents for a single cent. But don’t blame the teachers, blame the superintendents who are sitting on more than $100 billion in unspent COVID relief funds that could be used to clear these lists. 

The Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund was created by the CARES Act and then augmented to more than 14 times its original size by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation (CRRSA) and the American Rescue Plan. In total, Congress earmarked $189.5 billion, and as of June 30, not a single state has used more than half of its allocation. 

The money was set aside to reopen schools and ameliorate learning loss. Some districts are using it for that purpose, but the abysmal reading and math scores of 4th graders make it painfully clear that too many districts are doing too little. The number one priority of every school district should be getting students back up to speed, and doing that will take a major effort on the part of teachers. If districts can make their lives easier, for a relatively small amount of money, they should do it. 

Parents, too, deserve a break from prices rising ever higher. When teachers need assistance, parents are often the first place they turn, and families are having to absorb the cost of school supplies that cost more now than they did last year. 

According to the National Retail Federation, families with school-age children anticipate spending an average of $864 on back-to-school shopping, and 38% of consumers plan on cutting back on other spending to cover the back-to-school costs. 

Superintendents should do this not simply because it is the nice thing to do, but because it is in their own interest to keep teachers happy: Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, thanks to abysmal student behavior and, yes, low pay. With the stroke of a pen, the heads of local education agencies could make life easier for teachers, and by extension, students and parents. 

Six states have figured this out and are already taking action. Arizona, Delaware, Hawai’i, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Utah are each working with DonorsChoose to send relief funds to clear teacher wish lists, according to Education Dive

Other states are missing out on an opportunity to deliver tangible help to students and teachers. If you are a parent or teacher wondering how much money your local educational agency has available to spend, this website can help you find out. 

In a sane world, school districts shouldn’t even need to dip into their COVID funds to stock up their classrooms with supplies. Districts could save taxpayer dollars by cutting out bureaucratic bloat, which is now so severe that fewer than half of K-12 employees are teachers. 

Money cannot solve everything, or even most things, in education. But it can solve the problem of teachers needing supplies. The money is just sitting there. Unfortunately, so are the bureaucrats.