(Tallahassee.com) - The week before teachers are required to report for work, the production room at the Aquilina Howell Center is already humming with activity.
The school district keeps a room stocked with supplies, where teachers filter in to laminate handmade posters and cut out stencils of vocabulary words and class rules. It's part of a broader effort to cut down on the hundreds of dollars teachers spend out of their own pockets each year on posters, books and other supplies for their classrooms.
Gov. Rick Scott took up the cause last year after touring the state to visit schools and meet with teachers. He sought additional funding for the state's re-branded Classroom Supply Assistance Program.
Last week he unveiled a new debit card some teachers will be able to use to shop tax-free year round. However, not every school district will be offering the debit cards this school year.
Leon County Schools spokesman Chris Petley said the short amount of time between the cards' debut and the Sept. 30 deadline for distributing the money to teachers, coupled with the added complexity of administering the new debit cards, meant it was not feasible for the school district to offer them this school year.
Leon County, like other districts that don't adopt the debit cards, will cut checks to teachers next month to help defray the cost of school supplies, as it has done in previous years.
There will be more money available this year. The district is still calculating the exact amount, but lawmakers hiked funding for supply assistance by nearly 40 percent statewide, which would allow a school district like Leon to increase supply assistance for each teacher.
Scott announced Tuesday that school districts in six out of 67 counties, including Jefferson County locally and the large urban districts of Broward and Orange counties, have adopted the debit cards so far. Other districts, including Palm Beach County, have said the new cards will have to wait until next year, according to theOrlando Sentinel.
The governor's office has touted the fact that the debit cards will allow teachers to purchase supplies without paying state sales tax. They will also allow teachers to buy supplies using the state's purchasing contracts, essentially creating a bulk discount.
"We're hoping more counties will do it," Scott said after Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. "It'll be good for our teachers."
The governor's office says the average teacher in the state using a debit card will receive about $250 for classroom supplies. The program still might not cover the entire tab for teachers like Mattie Fisher, who moved to Leon County Schools this year after starting her teaching career in Georgia. She said she spent $300 of her own money for her classroom last year.
On Tuesday, she was assembling posters to line the walls for her new eighth-grade English class at Raa Middle School. It helps being able to tap into the district's supply trove at the Howell Center, she said, because that way, "You don't really have to go out and purchase them."