“You can exhale now,” the headline in Salon reassures, because “kids have more money than ever to spend on school stuff this year.”
The reason for Salon’s celebratory tone is that a national survey every year by the National Retail Federation finds that preteens preparing for a new school year have a record-breaking average of $80.31 in personal spending money. The author leaps from that nugget of information to conclude this is a sign of a stronger economy ahead. (Disclosure: I’ve written about education for Salon.)
But even if Salon’s analysis makes you breathe easier about the economy, you should understand those school kids aren’t going to keep their cash for very long, because their schools are going to need it.
Indeed, back to school supply lists are likely longer than ever before due to the simple reason that schools increasingly don’t have the funds to pay for items on the list. And because of persistently inadequate budgets that continue to dog our schools, you can be sure the longer your shopping list, the worse the funding situation is throughout your child’s school system.
Not only are school stockrooms increasingly bare of supplies, but teachers aren’t being adequately paid, class sizes are ballooning, programs are being cut, and school buildings increasingly forego required maintenance.
In states like North Carolina – where schools still get less funding than they did in 2008, despite an improving economy – money for necessary school supplies continues to be inadequate.
In the News & Observer, a local paper based in Raleigh, a first-grade teacher explains how the allotment for supplies she and her colleagues receive has gone from $100 per student “over a decade ago” to zero. The shortfall is especially harmful to her school where 70 percent of students are from low-income households that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. “Some are even homeless,” she says.
Across the state in Asheville, a local reporter explains how in that district’s schools the allocation for classroom supplies dropped from $215,530 in 2007-08 to an expected $136,802 in the upcoming school year. That smaller allocation comes as the number of students grew from 3,800 to an expected 4,500.”
An op-ed in the Raleigh paper explains the cause of the problem: State budget allocations for school supplies are less than half of what they should be based on a comparison to funding levels in 2007-08, adjusted for inflation.
The problem is nationwide. According to the most recent calculation of what it costs for a typical family to begin the school year – the Backpack Index compiled by Huntington bank – since 2007, “the cost of supplies and extracurricular activities has increased 85 percent for elementary school students, 78 percent for middle school students, and 57 percent for high school students.”
Consequently, teachers are having to beg families for money and dig deeper into their own pockets to purchase items their classrooms need just to function properly. A survey of schoolteachers in 2016 finds the average teacher spends $487 in personal money for their classrooms, mostly for school supplies and learning materials.
Much like in North Carolina, an Oklahoma newspaper describes the problem teachers have with outfitting their classrooms. The reporter sources much of the blame to budget cutbacks passed down from the state to districts. Some districts have eliminated school supply funding altogether.