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Two New Studies Shed Light on Back-to-School Challenges for Low-Income Families

By Communities In Schools July 22, 2014

Arlington, Va. – According to the latest “backpack index” released by Huntington Bank today, the cost of equipping K-12 public school students for the 2014-2015 school year has jumped as much as 20 percent, one of the largest year-over-year increases in the eight-year history of the Index. This report follows findings of the National Retail Federation's annual survey, released last week, which found that total spending on back-to-school items is expected to reach $74.9 billion this year—up about 3 percent from $72.5 billion in 2013.

This new information means increasing difficulties for low-income families to start the new school year off right according to Communities In Schools (CIS), the nation’s largest organization dedicated to keeping kids in school. The nonprofit operates on the front lines of the fight against poverty in classrooms.

“Every day, a disproportionate number of low-income students find it difficult to come to school prepared to learn while they struggle with the effects of poverty,” said Dan Cardinali, president of Communities In Schools.  “Especially these days as schools become more wired, and kids are required to come to school with smartphones and tablets instead of just crayons and a pencil box, it’s increasingly challenging to afford supplies.  CIS starts every school year off with supply drives so that students don’t start out behind on the first day.”

Communities In Schools’ affiliate in Nevada is hoping to collect supplies from Walmart and Sam’s Clubs for 2,200 students, for example.   In Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, CIS affiliates are putting school buses in front of Walmart and other stores with volunteers who hand out wish lists at the door and collect donations from customers.  Other affiliates conducting “Stuff the Bus” and other school supply drives include CIS affiliates from Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico and Washington. 

According to the Huntington Backpack Index, parents can expect to pay:

  • $642 for elementary school children, an 11 percent increase compared to 2013
  • $918 for middle school children, a 20 percent jump compared to 2013
  • $1,284 for high school students, a 5 percent increase compared to 2013

“It has become irrefutably clear that poor students lag well behind their more affluent counterparts, even when the educational basics appear to be the same,” said Cardinali.  “We need to level the playing field and make sure that students get what they need to succeed, including school supplies, food, clothing, health and dental care, and other services such as counseling and academic assistance.”

Communities In Schools also offers the following tips to parents to offset the cost of school supplies:

  • Reuse folders, backpacks and other items from previous school years
  • Organize a swap with neighbors of new or gently used school supplies
  • See if donations are available from your school or local community organizations
  • Take advantage of your state’s tax-free weekend to buy school supplies
  • Shop around and compare prices on goods at different retailers

Every 26 seconds, a young person in America drops out of school, resulting in a staggering 1.2 million student dropouts each year. Individuals who do not finish high school earn nearly $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates. Each year’s dropouts will cost the nation billions in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes. Much of this can be avoided through proven dropout prevention programs like CIS.

To learn more about the Huntington Annual Backpack Index here, and  more about the National Retail Federation's annual survey here.

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About Communities In Schools

Working directly in more than 2,300 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools is the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization proven to keep students in school and on the path to graduation. For the 2015-2016 school year, Communities In Schools served nearly 1.5 million students and successfully helped 99 percent of our case-managed students stay in school.