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    Organization: Georgia Association of Educators     Date: 4/16/2014

 

  Teachers' gift card has strings attached  
 

(Saturday,07/29/2006 ©  Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Teachers are going on a mini-shopping spree, courtesy of Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Public school teachers started picking up $100 gift cards this week that the state is offering to them for back-to-school supplies.

"I'll take every little bit I can get," said Lynn McDonald, a kindergarten teacher at Hillside Elementary in Roswell.

But there's a slight catch to the back-to-school present that has surprised some teachers. The gift cards are good for only four days: over the Aug. 3-6 state sales tax holiday. Teachers also have to come into schools to sign for them.

Heather Hedrick, a Perdue spokeswoman, said that the idea of limiting purchases to the tax-free holiday was "for teachers to get the best value out of the gift card possible."

"We have retailers lining up to give promotional specials to educators," she said.

But the tight shopping window means teachers who are out of town vacationing have to make arrangements with a friend or supervisor to shop for them. In these cases, the state suggests teachers work together.

In Cobb County, the system has even posted a "power of attorney" form on its Web site, which will allow teachers to pick up cards for each other.

Because the cards are being distributed before most Georgia schools have reopened, many teachers may be unaware they are available or that they have a four-day window for shopping, said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the 65,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

"I think it's going to come as a shock to them. They're off doing what teachers do on vacation," he said. "I don't think it's been widely communicated."

The Georgia Association of Educators, another prominent statewide organization for teachers, posted an explanation of the cards' distribution and purchase restrictions on its Web site.

Some educators, including Julie Burke, who teaches high school math in Sandy Springs, said they would have preferred to avoid the crowds on the tax free holiday and pick their own shopping times.

"Some of the best sales come before that time," Burke said. "Like right now."

Kathleen White, an orchestra teacher at two Roswell schools, said she did not want to sound unappreciative but felt the $100 falls short of what she needs. She still expects to spend several hundred dollars of her own money for basic necessities, from washcloths that keep instruments clean to string rosin, a sap applied to the bows.

"How far will $100 [go]?" she asked. "I'll use the card up, trust me, but I have spent so much already."

The cards got big press in January, when Perdue announced his plan to give every teacher the $100 gift.

Perdue, who is running for re-election, was immediately accused by some critics of pandering to teachers, an important voting bloc. But the Legislature later approved $10 million for the gifts.

The state mailed more than 108,000 of the classroom gift cards to school systems last week, and principals started distributing them this week. When teachers come in to sign for the plastic, they get guidelines for purchases and a letter from Perdue, who announced the cards as part of his budget address.

The cards are good for products such as textbooks, craft supplies and decorative items, but not for things like beer, wine, clothing and other personal items.

The state trusts teachers to use the card wisely --- to a point. At the end of the shopping holiday, the state plans to audit the spending. All purchases made with the cards are electronically coded, Hedrick said.

"Having said all of that," she said, "the bottom line is we trust Georgia teachers, and we know they are going to use this gift card for the educational betterment of their students."

At Roswell's Hillside Elementary, about 90 percent of the teachers have already come in to claim their cards. Principal Dara Jones, who called them at home to let them know the cards were in, hasn't heard too much bellyaching.

"When you give people money, they're not going to complain too much," Jones said.