Back to School ads signal the start of an annual family shopping spree. Shopping expeditions begin in early August, as parents with kids in tow hit the stores to attack long lists of school supply ‘must haves,’ fall clothes, the latest sports gear and mobile electronic devices. It is the second biggest consumer spending season of the year, putting a strain on family budgets and causing hardship for parents struggling to make ends meet. Across North America, the cost of heading back to school is escalating, and parents are finding out the hard way.
The average Canadian family with school age children, according to a recent poll conducted by VISA, will spend $403.89 on back to school items ($240 of which spent online), between August 1 and Labour Day. Some 34 per cent of shoppers start in the first two weeks of August, but most families find themselves rushing around when back to school shopping amounts to a frenzy. http://blogs.todaysparent.com/saving/what-does-back-to-school-cost-you/
Many Canadian families in tight economic times are struggling with back to school costs. A recent post in Today’s Parent (August 3, 2011) entitled “What does back to school cost you?” touches rather lightly on the critical issue. The author “Sandra” describes shopping for her two school age daughters at Mountain Equipment Co-op only to discover that last year’s backpacks have gone out of style! For families like Sandra’s the rising costs are an irritant, but for thousands of Canadian parents finding the money for such expenses means running up credit cards or doing without.
Why are more and more families dreading the Back to School merry-go-round of shopping? The cost of going back to school is rising each year, and so are all costs for “school supplies” and “incidentals” being borne by families in public schools as well as independent and alternative schools. A Back to School CBC Radio News program (Information Morning, August 16, 2011) identified the issue squarely and demonstrated how it adds to the stresses of family life.
It’s a problem that originated in the 1980s, as school boards sought to download costs for school supplies on parents and compelled many teachers to supplement their classroom supply budgets. Successive waves of edu-cuts have imposed more costs on families. One of the major drivers is charging kids to compete in sports or play in the school band, now known as the “pay-to-participate” or “pay-to-play” model of funding a whole range of extra-curricular activities. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/43856978/
Hard pressed families from Toronto to Calgary, from Youngstown, Ohio, to Denver, Colorado, and all over Ireland, are raising alarm bells about the soaring cost of school basics. In Youngstown, WKBN TV, ran a news story ( August 12, 2011) using Huntington Bank statistics claiming that from 2010 to 2011 costs went up $56 for elementary kids, $136 for middle school, and $91 for high school. (www.wkbn.com) The Calgary Board of Education was concerned enough to post a Survival Guide of Tips entitled “Worried about the Cost of Back-to-School?” In some cities, the neighbourhood Walmart store actually has school supplies lists posted that came from local Boards of Education.
Most of the Back to School costs media stories offer practical family budgeting tips, but studiously avoid addressing the larger education policy issue.
Why are Back to School costs rising so rapidly? Should public schools and boards of education be off-loading the costs for back-to-school basics? How can school systems professing to provide “education for all” be justified in imposing unreasonable costs on families in disadvantaged communities? To what extent are school systems forcing Food Banks into the school supplies business?