At the dazzling cost of school supplies, add the masks


I had to be online at the right time. I had already loaded the website, verified that my PayPal was linked. Pressing Refresh repeatedly, I was worried about the slow progress bar, felt anxious until I got the confirmation email: I successfully purchased a well rated mask for my child, an item so requested for back to school that the company was deploying timed replenishments.

Like my partner said, I can’t believe we are doing mask drops now. Masks, an essential accessory for the start of the 2021-22 school year, join a growing list of school supplies whose prices are increasing. The most popular school article is the best protection against COVID-19, although still disputed, with mask warrants outright banned in some districts. But, like other school supplies, they don’t come cheap.

Why are school supplies so expensive for families and teachers? And how did the costs only increase during the coronavirus pandemic? In 2014, the average parent of a Kindergarten to Grade 12 student spent about $ 100 per child on school supplies, a 12% increase from the previous year. Three years later, that cost had climbed to $ 650 for an elementary school child. Parents were expected to spend an average of $ 529 per child last year on school supplies, even with many students at home in a distant school.

Costs are expected to rise even further in 2021 due to pandemic inflation and supply chain shortages linked to COVID-19. The National Retail Federation says families with school-aged children will average more than $ 840 in school supplies this year and that total back-to-school spending will be $ 37.1 billion, billions more than record spending last year.

Some experts cite the children’s tax credit for increased spending on school supplies, neglecting that a number of divorced parents, like myself, have not received it due to an archaic practice of rotating which parent claims a child on taxes even though one parent has full custody. Technology is also partly responsible for the rising costs.


Expensive calculators have long been on the supply lists of older children. Today, more and more households have realized that children, even the youngest, need computers if in-person learning were to be abruptly interrupted, as was the case in 2020, when school districts like mine walked away overnight with no plans in place (and no way initially to get student laptops).

And more and more families have discovered that children might need their own internet-enabled devices to avoid battles over a work computer if offices also had to leave or stay apart. Some families may double their supplies, fearing a sudden quarantine, which would make parents de facto teachers again. Last year my son’s elementary school was away for more than half of the school year, but the price of the supply list has not gone down. When he returned to teaching in-person in the spring of 2021, I had to replace many of his school supplies, not wanting to send him to class with half-used supplies.

This year my family spent $ 170 on school supplies for an elementary school child. That doesn’t include the laptop we bought her at the end of 2020 or new clothes or shoes – a necessity when it comes to a tall and rapidly growing tween (who just came out of the children’s shoe sizes; adult men’s shoes are much more expensive). My son’s school doesn’t require a uniform, but when schools do, it can sometimes add hundreds to the back-to-school bill. In some states, such as Indiana, parents are also required to pay for textbooks.

Our school supplies tab came out about $ 100 more than my kid’s public school said the items should cost, had we ordered from the school’s third party contracted supplier. But to do that, we would have had to pay for the supplies at the end of last school year. It is not easy to shell out a large sum of money up front, especially as the pandemic continues to create so much instability, financially and otherwise. Some parents continue to change learning options – or even schools – worried about pandemic plans (or the lack of plans), making it difficult to know what supplies to buy.

The list is generally very precise, with specific markings. The notebook must be blue. The student must bring a file while they are sold in sets of 10. Although this excess waste worries me, the reason for this clarification is twofold. Many schools now contract with these third-party vendors, which only offer certain brands.

It is also, according to teachers, to ensure that all students have exactly the same material, which reduces bullying. It helps to create a level playing field for learning when everyone is using the same tools. But adding masks on back-to-school purchases can be costly as families struggle to find and afford high-quality masks that provide the best possible protection for children still too young to be vaccinated – close of 50 million children in the United States.

Face cover

Tight fitting masks provide the best protection against the delta variant. What about kids whose families can’t afford the extra money for decent masks? The cheapest masks on this list of “best KN95 masks for kids” are $ 14.95 for a pack of 10. The top pick of masks for kids and toddlers on The New York Times Wirecutter is $ 17 for a single mask. I opted for the Happy Mask – a reusable mask with good reviews that has come highly recommended since the emergence of the delta variant. It costs $ 24 for a single mask, plus shipping. I could only afford one.

And children, especially younger ones, go through masks quickly. My son’s school recommends that students bring several masks each day. At the end of last school year, most of our masks were worn in tatters – and none were the better quality ones health experts now recommend. If fairness is important to schools, important enough that all students use Ticonderoga # 2 pencils, why don’t schools provide students with safe masks?

School supplies fund

Why don’t more schools require a bag full of supplies but rather that parents contribute to a school supplies fund, like in Shaker Heights schools in Ohio? It could be a charge that could be waived for low-income households. We have long known that socio-economic differences can negatively affect a child in school – academically, physically and emotionally. But when it comes to the pandemic, not being able to afford a properly fitted mask could also have dire consequences.

This year’s school supply lists include hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes, which can be expensive and hard to find. These items are intended not only for each student, but for the whole class, especially as school budgets shrink, and families and teachers must bear the cost of providing building essentials such as towels. paper and handkerchiefs.


One of the positive changes from the pandemic has been free school meals for all children – why not safe supplies too? As the daughter of a public school teacher in rural Ohio, I watched my mom spend thousands of dollars over the years – money we didn’t have to spend. – supplies for his primary school class and snacks for his students. If she hadn’t retired, I imagine she would fill her class with children’s masks that she bought out of her own pocket. I imagine today that many teachers are doing the same.

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