By Jennifer Fernandez
In the second round of a state grant aimed at helping provide students with free period supplies, charter schools got a much larger share of the funding than they did in the first round.
The charters accounted for 45.7 percent of the money the state provided to pay for tampons, pads and other menstrual products, according to an analysis of Feminine Hygiene Products Grant Program data. That’s up from 14.8 percent in the first year.
Over the two years of the program, traditional schools have received nearly 70 percent of the available grant money.
More than 200 charter schools enrolled 135,972 students in the 2021–22 school year, state data shows. By comparison, the state’s nearly 2,500 traditional public schools served 1.4 million students.
It took a week for applications for program funding to exhaust the $250,000 available, according to a required report from the state Department of Public Instruction. The second round focused on schools not served the first time.
While charter schools got a larger share in the second round of the Feminine Hygiene Products Grant Program, traditional public schools received more money overall in both rounds.
Charter schools are privately run public schools that charge no tuition and are open to all students, but they do not have to adhere to all the rules that traditional public schools must follow.
In the latest round, 112 districts or individual schools applied for the grants, which range from $500 to $5,000. The first round drew 134 requests for the 2021–22 fiscal year. In each year, the program funded 66 grants.
Charter school grants totaled $114,300 this year, up from $37,000 in the first round. Traditional public schools or districts accounted for $134,700 in the second round, down from $213,000.
The final $1,000 in round two went to D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, a state “lab” school managed by UNC Wilmington. Lab schools have greater flexibility, like a charter school, than a traditional school.
The report’s authors said schools planned to use the money to help offset what they are spending on the products. This would alleviate sole reliance on hospitals or community-based organizations, which often are not able to provide enough products to cover students’ needs, and would ensure that all schools in a district have supplies available when needed.
In follow-up reports to the Department of Public Instruction, schools reported that having access to period supplies helped on multiple levels, from improving school attendance and self-esteem to destigmatizing menstruation. Also, making items available in restrooms reduced the amount of missed class time.
Though the General Assembly agreed last year to make the period products grant permanent, legislators did not set a recurring amount.
Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Davidson), who pushed for the grant program, has said that she’d like to see the amount increased to $500,000 or more.
She plans to submit legislation this session on that increase and also wants legislators to end taxes on period products — the so-called “pink tax.” However, Marcus wasn’t sure if those issues would be tackled in one bill or two.
Advocates say such programs are needed to address period poverty, which is described as inadequate education about and access to menstrual hygiene products.
In the United States, one in four teens has missed class due to the lack of period products such as tampons or pads, according to Alliance for Period Supplies. And two in five women struggle to buy period products due to lack of income, the nonprofit said.
Two students at Cary’s Green Hope High School started Period Project NC last year, which joins groups like the Diaper Bank of North Carolina in expanding efforts to make feminine hygiene products easily accessible in schools across the state.
“Our take is that period supplies are school supplies, and nobody should have to choose between going to class and having their period,” Michelle Old, founder and CEO of Diaper Bank of North Carolina, previously told NC Health News.
Once again, schools large and small, rural and urban sought help through the state grant program.
North Carolina Cyber Academy received $4,000 to buy tampons, pads, menstrual cups, period underwear and reusable pads.
The Durham-based charter school of about 2,700 students did not previously have a budget for the supplies, relying instead on community resources to help.
“We have students who fall under various socioeconomic statuses who need more than clothing and school supplies assistance,” school officials wrote in their application. “If awarded this grant, nearly 52 percent of our population of students will greatly benefit from receiving feminine hygiene products.”
Durham Public Schools, which serves more than 32,000 students, said it will use its $5,000 to supplement what it is already spending. The district said that many of its schools already have community partnerships to help.
“With that said, this is not sustainable for these schools,” the district said in its application, “and each year the support ebbs and flows whilst the demand continues to rise.”
The Durham district said the grant will have “a huge impact” on students it serves because many are from marginalized populations with many unmet needs.
“Our schools struggle every day to meet the needs of girls who have no feminine products at home, and as a result schools provide products for girls each month for the duration of their period.”
Currituck County Schools, a coastal district with about 4,300 students, planned to use its $2,000 to provide care packages for fifth grade students taking a puberty class. Money would also be used to provide supplies to counselors, nurses and athletic trainers.
Arapahoe Charter School, a K-12 school of about 500 students in coastal Pamlico County, planned to use its $3,700 grant to buy and install dispensers in bathrooms to stock with free supplies for students.
Many schools said in their applications that being able to provide menstrual supplies would help with more than just hygiene.
“Period poverty impacts the education of menstruating students every year,” Mooresville Graded School District said in its application. “By equipping our menstruating students with necessary period products, it keeps them in school, in class, and learning each month.”