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Cost of school supplies a burden for some parents

Tom Dinki/WBFO News

As students throughout Western New York head back to class this week, the cost of school supplies is likely on the minds of many parents.

Devon Rautenstrauch said she was surprised when she saw her two children’s supply lists for this year at Willow Ridge Elementary School in Amherst.


“The school supply price went up — the list is insanely long,” she told WBFO.


She and other parents took advantage of a free backpack giveaway held by Buffalo Bills player Ty Nsekhe last week at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Approximately 1,400 area students not only got backpacks, but markers, paper, folders, glue and notebooks. 


“You can go into the store and spend $60 easily on schools supplies, so it’s very beneficial,” said Sade Fountain, another parent who took advantage of the giveaway and whose son attends Buffalo P.S. 81.


The total cost of sending a child back to school nationwide is believed to only be going up. Families plan to spend an average of $696 per child this year, an increase of about $12 from last year, according to a National Retail Federation survey.


“From year to year we see it’s a substantial hit to parents’ wallets to send kids back to school with the tools and resources that they need,” said Steve Majors, vice president of communications for Communities in Schools.


The Virginia-based educational organization conducts its own survey on back-to-school costs, the Backpack Index. This year it included technology and connectivity costs for the first time ever, as students are increasingly being asked to use the internet to complete homework at home. 


All together, between supplies, technology and extracurricular activities, Communities in Schools’ Backpack Index found families will spend well over $1,000 per child.


“Even if they can afford the modest amount of money they might need for school supplies, when you take into account all the things that kids need to succeed in school — access to technology and connectivity — that really is a high bar for some parents in our country, particularly those who are low-income,” Majors said.


Communities in Schools has savings tips like reusing supplies, shopping at discount stores and utilizing community giveaways not unlike last week’s at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.


A spokesperson for Buffalo Public Schools said that while supply lists vary by classroom, every teacher tries to keep the list to a minimum with both need and cost in mind. The district also tries to let parents know about giveaways in the community. 


As for connectivity, Buffalo Public Schools is also spending $1.3 million to expand its wireless signal from eight schools into the surrounding neighborhood, providing thousands of students with free internet access.


Rautenstrauch feels giving her kids the right tools can be important.


“It gives them push in the beginning of the school year because everything is new,” she said. “They’re excited to go to school, they’re excited to be there because it’s new — new school supplies, new clothes, new book bag.


“So it will at least help for the first half,” she added with a laugh.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.