Teachers at a school in Bloomington want students to bring in iTunes gift cards on the first day of school.
In Mahtomedi, third-grade students are asked to bring in a $50 check for “activity fees,” in addition to dozens of school supplies.
Kindergartners at Lincoln Elementary in Faribault are expected to bring more than 30 supplies totaling at least $70.
As children across Minnesota get ready for another school year, they are being asked to bring more than just pencils, paper and crayons. At some schools, students are expected to bring disinfecting wipes, multiple boxes of tissues, printer paper, dry-erase markers — even socks to use as erasers on white boards. Flash drives and headphones are popping up on some lists. IPads have become standard issue in some school districts, but the earbuds to use them? Those go on the list.
For the 2015 school year, parents nationwide will shell out an estimated $645 per elementary pupil, $941 for middle school students and $1,402 for high schoolers, according to an annual study by Ohio-based Huntington Bank. The bank’s “Backpack Index” analyzes the price of school supplies, extracurricular activity fees and other costs in six states. The index shows an increase of 83 percent for elementary schools since 2007.
Educators know the lists are getting longer and the price tag higher.
“Any parent is going to tell you there is no such thing as a free public education,” said Rick Kaufman, spokesman for Bloomington Public Schools. “It’s a concern for parents how much they are doling out each year.”
75 pencils, 20 glue sticks
Those who think they can cut costs by shopping bargains and off brands may be thwarted by the specificity of supply lists. No-name markers? No thanks. A review of dozens of supply lists in Minnesota shows lists that often stipulate brand names: Crayola crayons and markers, Post-it notes, Ticonderoga pencils, and Fiskars scissors.
Increasingly, the requests extend even to cleaning supplies and food: Clorox wipes, Ziploc bags, classroom snacks, paper towels, paper lunch bags, “googly eyes” for art projects, and glitter.
Costs can vary greatly by school district. Parents of third-graders at Anishinabe Academy in Minneapolis, where 98 percent of students come from low-income families, might shell out less than $20 on required supplies, while families at Mahtomedi’s O.H. Anderson Elementary will spend $108, including a $50 “suggested donation” for field trips.
Clear Springs in Minnetonka wants every third-grader to bring 12 large or 20 small Elmer’s Glue sticks. That’s nearly $9 on glue sticks alone per student. Add up the other 15 supplies and parents there can expect to spend $78 for the first day of school.
At Highlands Elementary in Edina, third-graders are expected to bring 75 Ticonderoga pencils. A pack of 24 costs $5.89 at Target. The generic comes in at $1.29.
“You don’t want to buy cheap pencils. The lead will fall out and they keep breaking, so the kids are constantly getting up to sharpen the pencils,” said Delene Sanders, a middle school teacher in Oakdale.
Kenny Elementary in Minneapolis goes so far as to include a note on their supply list that reads “Ticonderoga are the pencils that sharpen properly, other brands end up being thrown out.”
Oak Grove Elementary in Bloomington would like iTunes gift cards. Kaufman, the spokesman at the district, said that is optional for parents. The cards will be used in gym, music and art class.
To prepare her son for kindergarten this year at St. Paul Music Academy, Natassja Gunn went to Sears and outfitted him with a backpack, pencils, notebooks and a pencil pouch — the no-frills items she needed as a student.
“I thought that was good enough,” Gunn said. She was shocked to learn she’d also have to add two dozen Crayola crayons, a set of markers, 10 glue sticks, three boxes of Kleenex and a box of gallon zippered freezer bags for the class.
“Shouldn’t they already be providing that?” Gunn asked. “I only want to get my son what I know he needs. I am not going to be spending extra money.”
Not every state asks parents to pony up. California has forbidden its schools from asking parents for school supplies or fees for field trips or other activities — the result of a lawsuit that claimed such expenses violated the state constitutional right to a free public school education.
Fundraisers and donations
It may not be apparent from the lists, but parents are not required to buy everything on the list. And, in fact, school officials say that a number of lower-income families do not bring in the pricier items. When that happens, they just look elsewhere to fill in the gaps.
Some educators have turned to online fundraising campaigns.
Tiffany Axness, a third-grade teacher at Lyndale Elementary in Minneapolis went to Donorschoose.org to create a campaign that would help furnish her classroom. Axness says that fewer than one-third of her students bring what’s needed. As of Thursday, she had netted nearly $700 dollars for storage bins, colored pencils, dry erase markers and crayons.
“I try to have community supplies available so all students feel a part of the team,” she wrote on her donation page. “In past years the supplies are bought by myself, however I am unable to continue doing this.”
Sanders, the Oakdale teacher, estimates she spends $800 a year on supplies. Her classroom budget from the school is $80.
“Some kids don’t have the money to bring everything in, or we run out of the supplies midway through the year,” Sanders said. “The Kleenex and all that comes out of my personal budget.” Sanders said she usually picks up some extra work in the district, like coaching or teaching credit recovery classes, to help offset the costs.
Districts also are working with nonprofits and local businesses to help teachers and parents get the supplies they need.
The National Council of Jewish Women provided supplies to more than 14,000 students in 29 Minneapolis schools this year.
Think Small, a nonprofit focused on early childhood education, recently hosted a backpack stuffing event at the Mall of America. Volunteers put pencils, glue, scissors, books and a DVD into 500 backpacks that will be distributed to low-income families in the metro area.
Debbie Belfry helps connect these types of organizations with schools in Bloomington.
Businesses and other organizations often tell her they want to donate to the neediest schools in the district, but she tells them that there are always students and teachers across the district’s schools that need the supplies. She works with principals and teachers to identify individual needs at each building, finding out which student still needs a backpack and supplies.
The district works to make sure the students have everything they need on the first day so that they don’t show up to the classroom empty-handed.
Still, Belfry says, “no matter how many donations we get, we never cover every need for every student.”