Back-To-School Costs To Reach Several Billion Dollars

By the time the 2013-14 academic year kicks into full gear across the nation, it is estimated that the amount of money spent on back-to-school shopping will be in the 10-figure range.

Last year, approximately $8.5 billion was spent at family clothing stores, and $2 billion at book stores, in the month of August alone. According to a July report by the U.S. Census Bureau, this year’s retail and food sales for the months of May and June both showed an increase of more than 5 percent over last year’s sales during that time.

Given that, according to a Census Bureau report from October 2011, 2.9 percent of the U.S. population age 3 and older was comprised of enrolled students from nursery school through college, these numbers may not be surprising. The report estimated the total number of students in this range to be 79 million.

Also contributing to the amount of sales reflected in back-to-school season is the variety of options offered to students when it comes to supplying their clothing and academic needs. In 2011, there were 28,128 family clothing stores, 7,093 children and infants clothing stores, 25,448 shoe stores, 8,144 office supply and stationery stores, 21,227 sporting goods stores, 8,407 bookstores and 8,625 department stores.

From a local perspective, Jim Cheeseman, store manager of Wal-Mart in Lakewood, said back-to-school season has an impact on several of his store’s departments.

“Absolutely,” Cheeseman said when asked if Wal-Mart experiences an increase in sales during back-to-school season. “All areas – (such as) stationery, commercial, bread and furniture – see an uptick in sales.”

While elementary and middle school students oftentimes receive a list of school supplies to purchase before returning to classes, buying for high schoolers can be a bit more convoluted. Much of the time, high school students enter into the new school year without a clear picture of what they should and shouldn’t buy to prepare.

According to Chuck Leichner, superintendent of Forestville Central School, sometimes that can be the best course of action for students to take.

“For high school students, from my perspective, the best thing to do is attend class the first day or two with a notebook and write down exactly what the teacher wants,” Leichner said. “Sometimes kids might buy a number of supplies, and they’re not even what the teachers are looking for. So, waiting until the first day before making purchases is probably a wise approach.”

Kaine Kelly, superintendent of Sherman Central School, said his district strives to make minimal requests of students in the way of purchasing their own supplies in unkind economic times.

“We speak with our staff, and they’re cognizant of the fact that we teach in a low socio-economic school system,” Kelly said. “We try to be mindful of the fact that many families don’t have a lot of money to spend on school supplies. So, other than making sure (students) have the standard pencil, pen and organizer materials, we try to build as many school supplies into our budget as possible.”

Both superintendents pointed out the impact that increasing usage of technology in education is having on the purchasing trends of school supplies, as well as the homework completion process.

While Kelly suggested students provide their own thumb drives and laptops, he said Sherman will be providing its students with individual iPads as the district makes its way toward a paperless classroom.

“That will change the way homework and shopping for supplies is done,” Kelly said. “(Students) can download their homework via Wi-Fi at the school, and homework will then be completed on the iPads and submitted by email.”

Before making any technology purchases, Leichner encouraged students to review their school’s acceptable use policy for which types of electronic devices are permitted for school use, and which devices will be to their advantage to have.

“Some schools are developing policies on BYOD – bring your own device,” Leichner said. “Here at Forestville, we allow students in secondary school to bring their own devices and register them through our technology department – and that falls under our district filter.

“I think technology is important,” he continued. “And what we’ve determined here is that trying to keep the students’ individual technology out of the building is like trying to swim upstream; it’s not going to happen. It’s a reality. Technology is here, and kids are using it on a regular basis. So, our approach is to monitor it and help kids use it responsibly.”