Back to school supplies. The sales don’t cut it

It’s time to pack away your pool noodles, dry your swimsuits, speed-read the rest of your beach reads,  and pull out your sales fliers. We’re going back to school.

Last year, back-to-school shoppers spent over $75 billion, making this time of year the nation’s second-busiest shopping season, and parents, teachers, and students are all on the hunt for the best prices.

We all know it’s a good idea to compare online and in-store prices to scavenge the best deals. You can save a ton of gas and legwork by doing a quick Google search. The cheaper those pens, pencils, and rulers, the better; with students constantly losing and loaning out these items, stockpiling is a virtue.Back to school banner design

For those who prefer to hit the stores, you’ve probably seen that office supply stores are selling many school supplies for 25 cents, or even a penny.  Other retailers like have followed suit with similar sales. 

Yet even the best sales won’t put school supplies within the reach of our neediest students. And budget cuts in many districts have emptied supply closets. Teachers across the nation spend an average of $1,000 per year to fill in the gaps and provide for their students.

You may have heard about the Oklahoma teacher earlier this year who actually panhandled for school supplies. And a teacher in my home state of Utah is asking that guests to her upcoming wedding, instead of buying gifts, purchase school supplies and clothing items for the more than 100 homeless students at her school. 

“I registered for tennis shoes and Converse and backpacks and winter coats,” says Copper Hills High School teacher Rickee Stewart. (She’s even integrated her idea into the business and finance classes she teaches. Retail students will learn about arranging items in the school’s pantry in an appealing way, while finance students will learn about giving to charity on a budget. 

There are other ways to help students in need as well. Many organizations and stores are holding school-supply drives. Ask your friends and family members to grab a few extras when they’re back-to-school shopping.

But the bottom line is that donations, while helpful, can never make up for what school budgets don’t cover—nor should they have to. We must keep advocating for the opportunities that our students deserve, including all the resources and materials that are part of the overall learning experience.

The Every Student Succeeds Act could be a vehicle for finally measuring whether our students have the tools and supplies they need, no matter where they live. The NEA has created this checklist to help you figure out what your schools are doing to support students, and what potential may be there as well.  The list covers broad categories such as curriculum and school climate, but you can personalize it for your school and circumstances. 

Find out more about ESSA, what it means for our students, and how you can have a voice in it here, and join the NEA edCommunities to share ideas and experiences with educators across the nation.

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