Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Week of School Finances

Oh, yes, it's the first week of school here.
Tuesday we had to send in $20 per kid for gym uniforms.
Tonight we went shopping for school supplies. Most every class requires its own binder and dividers and then the assortment of random things--we needed two stores and it was not an inexpensive evening.

The lines at Target were slow, and I got into a conversation with a brand new sixth grader. She sat at an unoccupied register, telling me how tired she gets making her way up and down the stairs and across the building. She explained the special activities she's in, and how she gets to emcee a piece of the upcoming Open House evening. 

Engaged in conversation, I was late to notice her mother carefully prioritizing the items in their cart. I heard her tell the cashier, "Never mind, I need the tuna more than the spaghetti sauce." 

Her discard pile likely cost less than the Ben & Jerry's I'd picked up for my special treat. Oof.

I could afford my children's school supplies, odds and ends, and even that pint of ice cream. But this is a tight time of year for many families--public education may be subsidized, but it's not actually free.

Could it be? Compared to the thousands of dollars taxpayers spend on each child's education (around $7000/year here in Houston), school supplies and uniforms are a tiny expense. 

In some districts, any child who qualifies for free or reduced lunch automatically receives vouchers for school supplies and uniforms. In others, Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and a hodgepodge of social agencies help when they can. Many of those programs vary widely from school to school, and even year to year within the same campus. 

If we truly paid for ALL the parts of a child's education, we'd be taking some unilateral steps toward economic justice and making a values statement--all children are important and we have systems in place to make sure that each child has what they need.

In addition, bulk purchasing would likely save millions of dollars AND reduce parental frustration, free up time, and reduce all sorts of carbon footprints.

I could go on, but I'm exhausted from the shopping.

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