School began this week for most kids in the Philadelphia region. Both public schools in the city and suburbs and independent schools all opened their doors to the new year on Tuesday.

While the list of things concerning parents tends to remain the same – who are the teachers, who is in the child’s class, what are bus times, etc. – school supplies are quickly becoming more and more expensive.

How expensive depends on who you ask.

A recent study by Deloitte found the average cost of supplies per student this year was $500, up from $488 last year.

In another study by Huntington National Bank in Virginia, which releases a Backpack Report every year – average high school supply costs were almost $1,500. Middle school supplies cost about $1,000 and elementary school students needed $662 worth of supplies.

According to Deloitte, the back-to-school supply business will pull in about $27 billion this year in notebooks, pens, glue sticks and more.

For most reading this column, rising school supply costs are at most an annoyance. The hardest part is finding a 3” binder among stacks of 1.5” binders or getting the right brand of graphing calculator. And good luck if you haven’t already bought these supplies because most stores sell out of what you’re looking for the moment school opens.

For many Americans, however, school supply costs can be a real hardship.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five school-age children lives below the federal poverty line. That’s 11 million kids across the U.S. whose school supply lists will cause a hardship for parents.

Filling the gap for those students will likely be their teacher. The same Backpack Report study found that the average teacher spends $600 of his or her own money buying supplies to give to children who aren’t able to purchase everything on their list.

When taken into account with rising costs for almost any other thing a child wants to do to participate, from clubs to after school programs to sports, school supplies are just one more growing expense that taxes families.

While as of this writing most school supply drives are likely ending, it’s important for everyone to pitch in with donations whenever the opportunity arrives. In Philadelphia, where the needs of school children are even greater, this is particularly true. Pencil and notebook donations can go a long way, not only to defray the costs to parents, but also to their teachers.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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