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Education

Here's Why the Annual Cost of School Supplies Is Rising in the US


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Students around the world miss out on learning because they don’t have the materials they need to fully participate in class. The 2019 Huntington Backpack Index examines the financial costs of school supplies to assess how affordable they are for families. You can join us and take action on this issue here.

School supply lists still typically include all the usual staples, from composition notebooks to pencils, but now children are also expected to buy laptops and have internet service at home. And for American parents, the increasingly digital nature of homework means spending more money out of pocket in order to keep up. 

Ahead of back-to-school shopping, Huntington Bank and the organization Communities in Schools released the 13th annual Huntington Backpack Index on July 18. The index anticipates the costs of school supplies and related fees, and suggests that families in the US will spend significantly more in the 2019-2020 school year than they did the previous year. The spike is attributed to the added costs of a basic laptop and home internet in addition to the usual price of classroom supplies and extracurricular fees.

For low-income families, the added expenses can cause severe financial strain.

“With resources stretched inside schools, teachers need nonprofits, members of the community. and corporate partners to help bridge the school supply and technology gap,”  Heather Clawson, Communities in Schools chief program and innovation officer, said in a statement released to Global Citizen. 

For the past 13 years, Huntington Bank has tracked classroom supply and school fee costs to highlight the burden of education expenses. In the upcoming school year, parents can expect to pay $1,017 per child for elementary school students, $1,277 for middle school students, and $1,668 for high school students — all on supplies, extracurricular fees, and technology. These numbers are a significant jump from 2018-2019, when the Huntington Index predicted families would pay $637 for elementary children, $941 for middle school children, and $1,355 on high school students for school supplies and related costs. 

Huntington Bank surveyed affiliates of Communities in Schools across 26 states and asked them to identify items typically on supply lists for elementary school through high school. Supplies that received at least 30% of votes were included in the 2019 Huntington Backpack Index.

The report found that 62% of elementary school students, 88% of middle schoolers, and 94% of high school students are at least sometimes asked to submit assignments from home via a technological device that uses the internet. But considering that research has found 28% of Americans couldn't afford the internet, and 13% couldn't afford a computer to get them online, that leaves many children without the means for tools considered mandatory to learn.

Read More: US Teachers Spend Nearly $500 of Their Own Money Every Year on School Supplies

When children don’t have access to all the supplies they need, their academic performance and well-being can suffer. One charter school teacher from Texas told NBC News that when her students don’t have a notebook, for example, it hurts them socially because they know other children have them, and they can’t write down their assignments to complete their work. In public schools, 94% of teachers spend their own money, an average of $469 each, on supplies to support their students and in some cases up to $1,000.

While technology is supposed to make people’s lives easier, research shows that tech-based education also holds back low-income students, who are more likely to be children of color, when they don’t have a computer or the internet to finish their homework.  

Next school year, Huntington Bank will donate 1,000 refurbished devices from desktops to wireless routers to Communities in Schools affiliates to ensure students have the resources to excel.

“All students, regardless of their family’s income, should have the tools required to do their best work inside the classroom and at home,” Clawson said.