The Rising Cost of School Supplies

If you are a parent you have probably noticed the rising cost of school supplies. What, if anything, can be done to help parents who are struggling financially purchase these much needed supplies.

Whose fault is it?

Recently I overheard a conversation between two mothers who were getting ready to buy school supplies. They were not happy about the expense and blamed the teachers and schools for not being able to purchase items like paper, sticky notes, and tissues. One mother said, “If they didn’t send teachers to those expensive meaningless trainings then they could afford to buy our kids what they need.”

I am a former member of our local school board and also a former teacher. It was hard to keep from jumping into the conversation, but I kept my mouth shut (for once) because I am also a parent. We had 5 children and I remember the cost of those back to school lists so I empathize with both sides of the problem. How do we make sure all children have what they need in school to succeed without breaking the bank?

It’s a complicated issue.

According to USA Today the cost of back to school supplies has increased 7.3% since last year. The article states in part, Almost every basic item has risen in cost since last year, some by up to $10, according to the analysis.”

A recent survey found that families with K-12 students are expected to spend an average of $635 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics this year. That’s less than last year, when back-to-school spending reached historic levels thanks to pent-up demand and a growing student population.

With supplies costing more how do people who barely make enough money to pay their monthly bills afford school supplies? The answer is they can’t pay for them, but someone does. So who pays?

Sometimes it’s the teacher…

According to a news release, more than 15 million children in the United States live in households that can’t provide all the resources they need to succeed in school.Previous research has found teachers spend up to $1,000 each year on these items, a total of $1.3 billion (yes, billion).

Sometimes it’s the school board...

When I was elected to our local school board I was surprised at the number of hours we spent going over our budget with our Superintendent. We sincerely wanted to make every penny count and to make sure every child had what they needed but the truth was there was never enough money to do everything. The buildings were old and needed repair, the cost of fuel for school busses was unbelievable, the heating and cooling costs for so many old buildings ate up a large section of our budget. We could have bought school supplies if children didn’t need busses or the buildings didn’t need heat or air….but they did.

And as for the comment by the moms about “worthless training for teachers.” Believe me, our teachers need every bit of training they can get. Just as society is more complicated today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, so is the classroom. Most teachers I know want to know how to operate all the latest technology, maintain an orderly learning environment for their students and challenge every student to reach their potential. However, the reality is often that schools are slow in getting the technology they need, classrooms are crowded with students who may or may not be interested in learning and who have family problems that break teacher’s hearts on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s the parents and grandparents…

Recently my cousin who lives in Florida (she’s a teacher, by the way) posted the following picture on Facebook with a note that said, “We are ready!! Thank you to the grandparents for helping with the supplies!” She and her husband have 3 children in elementary school and 1 in middle school.

 cost of school supplies

Sometimes it’s the community…

In a nearby county they have “Stuff the Bus” where a local television station encourages the community to bring school supplies and fill up an empty school bus. I have heard of police departments and county sheriffs doing “Cram the Cruiser” for back to school supplies.

The reality of the rising cost of back to school supplies is that it’s like everything else, it’s probably going to more expensive next year than last year.

Which makes me wonder if the first person to utter the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” was shopping for back to school supplies.



  1. Peggy Borgstrom 16 Aug, 2013

    I am involved with a caring group of women that get together every three months to play bingo. I won’t go into the details but each session has a side purpose. This past Sunday it was to bring school supplies for the ones who couldn’t afford their own. We also have a table to place items we no longer want or need. The ladies purchase these items and the money is divided between the schools and a group we call “Teem Anonymous” older children that don’t have school supplies. It breaks my heart that they don’t have want they need and that the poor teachers have to buy supplies out of their own pockets. Maybe someone should tell the powers that be that charity begins at home, not is some foreign country. I specify that my donations stay in the area, not across the border in Mexico!

  2. Mary Alice 16 Aug, 2013

    Our local retired teachers’ organization had a project which contributed supplies for many students, and some of the stores in town had receptacles for donations which people added to when they shopped there….those ladies were right–it is expensive…but they were so wrong about the necessity for training our teachers! Afraid I couldn’t have kept quiet on that one!!

  3. teresak 17 Aug, 2013

    Keeping quiet is not my strong point either…must be hereditary!

  4. teresak 17 Aug, 2013

    Great idea, Peggy! Thanks for writing and telling us about it!