Cost of crayons and paper takes toll on more than families’ pocketbooks

Parent & Family Engagement | 08/07/2015

Amber England
Executive Director

Amber England is the Executive Director of Stand for Children Oklahoma.

Like so many Oklahoma families, in my early years, my family lived paycheck to paycheck. There was so little money left after we paid rent, groceries, utility and car payments that two times of the year required “lay-away” plans at our local Wal-Mart or department store: back-to-school and Christmas. If it hadn’t been for “lay-away” and chipping away at back-to-school and Christmas several months before they occurred, there would have been no new shoes and school supplies at the start of school…and Santa would have had a really hard time finding my house.

Lay-away plans with retailers are about as common now as cars that include cassette tape players. Yet what hasn’t changed is Oklahoma families struggling to make ends meet while also providing their children with the essentials for school.

At the same time that the cost of school supplies are at an all-time high – national estimates range from $50-$100 per child for school supplies only – studies indicate that the majority of Oklahomans and Americans are only one paycheck away from not being able to pay any of their bills. When you consider that the average family spent over $600 last year sending its kids back to school, it’s not difficult to imagine the harsh burden back-to-school costs place on financially struggling families.

POLL: How much does back-to-school cost you as a parent and/or teacher?

In fact, poverty and the high-cost of back-to-school are the primary reasons that Oklahoma City Public Schools found in a study it undertook three years ago that students weren’t starting school at the beginning of the school year – sometimes starting school weeks after the year actually began. The cost of crayons, pencils and shoes were actually setting children back weeks or months in learning…simply because their folks could not afford to pay for them and opted to not enroll them in school until they could.

Thankfully, OKCPS sensitively responded to this information by moving its school-year start to a Monday and to fall right after a paycheck period.  And, the Legislature has responded by supporting an annual sales-tax free holiday before the beginning of the school year that helps to offset some of the burden of back-to-school purchases, such as those for clothing and shoes. This year’s holiday began at midnight Today, Aug. 7, and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 9.

Several nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations are stepping up annually to provide school supplies and other services to needy families. And, unfortunately, we also know that many teachers also do this out of their own very shallow pockets (which is yet another reason why we need to give these dedicated professionals the raise they haven’t had in nearly a decade!).

If you are reading this column and are in the position to give to school supply drives or uniform drives, we encourage you to do so as there is great need in both of our metropolitan areas, as well as in most communities across our state.

Likewise, if you are reading this column and struggling to figure out how you will be able to afford school supplies and other back-to-school needs for your children, please visit the websites above and call your local school. Do not wait to enroll them in school or have them start school until you are financially able to pay for supplies. Schools are very familiar with area school supply and uniform drives and can likely connect your family with an organization and/or a drive effort to ensure your child gets what he/she needs.

Layaway plans may have fallen by the wayside. But, working together, we can make sure that all Oklahoma children have what they need to begin this new school year with confidence, excitement and the determination to succeed! 



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