Rising back-to-school lists, costs give families a lesson in economics

By Julianne Logan

Cronkite News Service (MCT)

Published: Monday, Aug. 11 2014 10:00 a.m. MDT

It costs a lot to send kids back to school.

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WASHINGTON — Mother Lindsay Barnes already knows what the National Retail Federation is reporting in a recent study — it costs a lot to send kids back to school.

The federation said this month that families will spend an average of $101.18 per student for school supplies alone, a 12 percent increase from last year. When clothes, shoes and electronics are included, the tab runs to $669.28 per family with kids in kindergarten through high school, its data showed.

Barnes said she is “beyond dreading” back-to-school shopping for her second-grader. She is particularly concerned by the amount of classroom supplies she expects she will have to buy, after getting a list last summer requesting “a ridiculous amount of supplies.”

“They wanted something like 72 No. 2 pencils,” Barnes said. “I don’t see why a first-grader would need that many pencils. I don’t even think I’ve used 72 pencils in my entire life.”

The retail federation report speculated that one reason for the increase in school-supply spending could be “school districts’ growing requests for classroom supply contributions.”

“I honestly feel like we’re footing the bill for the entire school,” Barnes said. “It didn’t seem fair.”

Mandy Taylor, who teaches sixth grade in the Phoenix area, said she understands parents’ frustrations because she is in the same boat. Taylor said she sends about $500 of her own money each year on classroom basics such as pens, paper and “inspirational posters.”

“I am very appreciative to parents that are willing to spend the extra dollar and help out,” said Taylor, who said parents are never required to buy supplies, let alone specific brands. She asks parents to look at the supply lists as suggestions.

“I know it may seem ludicrous and a bit ridiculous” to ask for specific products, she said. “But we go through a lot, mainly pencils, and the name brands, like Crayola, hold up better. We know they will last all year.”

Nancy Dudenhoefer, spokeswoman for an Arizona school district, said teachers have to ask because there’s only so much in the budget for supplies. The state only provides “a certain number of funds and that doesn’t go to pencils,” she said.

Ashley Dammen, an Arizona Department of Education spokeswoman, said the state provides funds to each district for classroom resources but it has “no requirement for schools to provide teachers with supplies.” The state leaves it to the districts to decide “how they spend those funds,” she said.

In the schools, that money goes to things like textbooks and computers, Dudenhoefer said.

Alyssa Martin, a first-grade teacher, said she got a $150 Target gift card from the district as a first-time teacher last year, but still spent about $600 of her own money getting her classroom together.

“The district gives what they can. But things get dirty and little kids go through things fast,” said Martin, who said she relies on parents for help.

She said most parents are willing to help fulfill her “wish lists,” which include traditional supplies, like markers and crayons, as well as cleaning products like Lysol Wipes and paper towels.

“I don’t require anything, but I can’t do it all myself,” Martin said. “I am very grateful for the parents who help me out.”

It’s not just elementary schools parents who feel the pinch.