School supplies are expensive and good masks make it worse


As my partner said, I can’t believe we’re doing mask drops now.

Masks, the essential accessory for the 2021-22 school year, join a growing list of school supplies whose prices are rising. The hottest school element is best covid protection, though still disputed, with mask mandates 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 K-12 student spent about $100 per child on school supplies, a 12% increase from the previous year. Three years later, that cost had jumped to $650 for an elementary school child. Last year, parents were expected to spend an average of $529 per child on school supplies, even with many students at home in a distant school.

Costs are expected to increase even more in 2021, due to pandemic inflation and covid-related supply chain shortages. The National Retail Federation says families with school-aged children will spend an average of more than $840 on school supplies this year, and total back-to-school spending will be $37.1 billion, billions more. than last year’s record spending.

Some pundits cite the child tax credit for increased spending on school supplies, ignoring that a number of divorced parents, like me, did not receive it due to an outdated practice of rotating what parent claims a child for taxes, even if one parent has full custody.

Technology is also partly responsible for the rising costs. Expensive calculators have long been on older kids’ supply lists. Now, more and more households have realized that even the youngest kids need computers if in-person learning is to be put on hold abruptly, as was the case in 2020 when school districts like mine moved away overnight with no plan in place (and no way initially to get laptops to students). 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 have to stay remote as well.

Some families may double their supplies, fearing a sudden quarantine, which would once again make parents teachers de facto.

Last year, my son’s elementary school was away for more than half of the school year, but the price of the supply list didn’t come down. When he returned to in-person teaching in the spring of 2021, I had to replace many of his school items, not wanting to send him to class with half-used supplies.

This year, my family spent $170 on school supplies for an elementary child. That doesn’t include the laptop we bought him at the end of 2020, or any new clothes or shoes – a necessity when dealing with a large, fast-growing tween (just rolling 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 of dollars to the back-to-school bill. In some states, like 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, if we had ordered from the third party supplier under contract with the school. But to do that, we would have had to pay for the supplies at the end of last school year.

It’s not easy to shell out a large sum of money up front, especially since the pandemic continues to create so much instability, financially and otherwise. Some parents continue to switch learning options — or even schools — worried about pandemic plans (or lack thereof), making it difficult to know what supplies to buy.

The list is usually very specific, with specific marks. The notebook should be blue. The student must bring only one file, even if they are sold in packs of 10. Although this excessive waste worries me, the reason for this precision is twofold. Many schools now contract with these third-party vendors, which only carry certain brands.

It is also, according to teachers, to ensure that all students have exactly the same materials, which reduces bullying. This helps create more equal learning conditions when everyone uses the same tools.

But adding masks to 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 – nearly 50 million children in the United States.

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

And children, especially younger ones, wear 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 higher quality ones that health experts now recommend.

If equity is important to schools, important enough that all students should use Ticonderoga #2 pencils, why aren’t schools providing student safety masks? Why don’t more schools need a shopping bag full of supplies, but instead have parents contribute to a school supply fund, like the schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio? It could be a fee 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 fitting mask could also have disastrous consequences.

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

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 — on supplies. for her primary school class and as snacks for her students. If she hadn’t retired, I imagine she would be filling her classroom with children’s face masks that she bought out of her own pocket. I imagine today that many teachers do the same.

Alison Stine is a writer from rural Ohio. His novel “Trashlandswill be published in October.

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