- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that the ninth annual Huntington Bank Backpack Index, which said that parents with three kids in elementary school can expect to spend $1,947 on supplies and extracurricular activities come the new school year.

If you’ve got one in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school, you’re going to bump up against nearly $3,000.

If you’ve got three in high school, you might as well just roll over and find a therapist.

School supply lists are hardly universal, and they include things that a generation ago were routinely found in kids’ playrooms and bedrooms, but not necessarily in classrooms.

Notebooks, paper, pens, crayons and pencils, scissors are still among longstanding staples, of course.

But these days even pre-schoolers are asked to bring things likely found in grown folks’ workplace.

For example, Capitol Heights Elementary School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, requests that children bring two packs of Post-it notes, two large bottles of hand sanitizer and three boxes of tissues. The school also gets brand specific: Clorox Disinfecting Wipes Ziploc bags, please and thank you.

Gender has a role, too: Preschool and kindergarten boys are required to bring gallon-size Ziploc bags, but girls should bring quarter-size Ziplocs.

Now, if you’re low-income parents, I can’t imagine what your feet will feel like or how far you have to trek to meet this requirement: “1 five subject, spiral-notebooks [sic] with red plastic cover (MEAD)-brand preferably.” Hmm.

That is the rub. Test scores nationwide prove that third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and beyond are not reading and calculating on grade level. But, hey, at least their parents bought them the right brand name.

Donors step into the breach

Not all parents can afford everything on schools’ supply lists, and George Mokrzan, director of economics for Huntington Bank, put it succintly in a press release: “With the ongoing slow growth in wages, it is difficult for many families to meet the rising costs of sending children to school. For a family of five living at the poverty level guideline of $28,410, the cost of sending three children to school would consume as much as 10 percent of their income.”

To help make ends meet, back-to-school drives have been and are being held across country. In Prince George’s County, thousands of parents and youngsters attended the fair at the Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro last Saturday. Immunizations, which are mandatory, were also avaiable.

The nonprofit OCASE Foundation, a group of D.C. civic do-gooders, holds a similar event every year, giving away thousands of supply-laden backpacks to D.C. students. The only requirement: Kids must be accompanied by a parent or adult.

They spend what?

Do you have any idea how what the per-pupil spending level is in your state, regardless of whether you have a child in public school?

Below are need-to-know numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But, please, folks, don’t be fooled. The 2013 dollar figures have more than likely risen, as you probably know, and they are going to rise again.

In addition to having to recalibrate pensions for principals, teachers and other union-organized school employees, add to your annual school costs a social phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation — universal pre-K.

1) The biggest per-pupil spenders are all blue states, according to the census:

New York — $19,818

District of Columbia — $17,953

New Jersey — $17,572

Connecticut — $16,631

2) The states that spend the least are on the western side of the mighty Mississippi River:

Utah — $6,555

Idaho — $6,791

Arizona — $7,208

Oklahoma — $7,672

Per-pupil spending is going to continue to increase as long as politicians continue to push universal preschool and kindergarten. After all, parents have figured out that it’s cheaper to send their tots to a public school — which they pay for via local, state and federal tax dollars.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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