As parents and teachers prepare for students to return to classrooms this fall, they’re grappling with how much more the most basic school supplies will cost.
From glue, markers, pens and tape to backpacks, sneakers, even underwear, price tags on these necessities have jumped over the last year as inflation makes all kinds of purchases costlier.
Families may already be adjusting their household budgets to absorb higher prices, but when everything costs more, it adds up.
“We look across millions of consumers in every economic level and income bracket and no one is immune from soaring inflation in their daily lives,” said Brian Mandelbaum, CEO of Klover, a consumer data company in the personal finance and commerce space. “The most impacted are those households who are living paycheck to paycheck, on a very fixed budget.”
Klover, which collects consented spending data from its more than 3 million consumer users as well as point of sale pricing data, looked at year-over-year price changes for the most common items on annual back-to-school shopping lists — everything from pencils and pens to clothing and sneakers.
It found that shoppers are spending much more on school-related purchases this year versus 2021 even as the average number of transactions dropped for categories such as children’s clothing, electronics and school and office supplies.
“We learned that people are going less frequently to places like big-box stores, and when they do go, they are also buying fewer items per each trip,” said Mandelbaum.
He has a prediction for how the school shopping period will play out this year: “It will be longer, and might even stretch past the start of school, which is unusual,” Mandelbaum said. “Shoppers will wait for prices to come down and get what they hope are better deals.”
Cost of classroom supplies
Cost of back-to-school essentials — glue, markers, pens, backpacks — has jumped.
Mandelbaum noted items such as Scotch tape and Sharpies have seen some of the highest price jumps year-over-year.
For all varieties of 3M’s Scotch-branded tape, the average price surged nearly 70% this year compared to 2021.
The cost of two other popular school supplies — Sharpies and Elmer’s Glue — are up nearly 55% and 30% respectively in 2022.
Mandelbaum said shoppers are paying 12% more for BIC pens, too.
Elsewhere, prices for popular JanSport backpacks are about 2% higher, Nike sneakers have increased 12%, the average price for Hanes underwear is up 6.4% and TikTok-approved, Gen Z favorite Dickies pants cost $13.6% more.
One exception: crayons.
Crayola crayon prices have trended lower, year-over-year. “It’s a rare outlier,” Mandelbaum said.
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Educators have long felt the pressure of heavy workloads, low wages, and lack of resources to perform their jobs effectively. This burden increased over the last few years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. HeyTutor outlined five ways these pandemic-related teacher shortages are affecting K-12 schools across the U.S.
Burnout is affecting teachers like never before. In January 2022, a poll of National Education Association members showed more than half of educators surveyed were likely to retire or leave the job early because of the pandemic. That’s nearly twice the number that reported feeling the same way in July 2020.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 44% of public schools reported teacher vacancies and 49% reported other staffing vacancies as of January 2022. In non-teaching roles, custodial positions had the most vacancies, followed by transportation and nutrition. Over half of open positions were due to resignations. Three out of five schools cited the pandemic as a contributing factor to this increase.
Read on to learn how increased educator vacancies have impacted both teachers and students.
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Teacher shortages have caused class sizes to grow during the pandemic—but larger class sizes also contribute to educator burnout, which then leads to even more teachers leaving their positions.
More students in a class can mean more work for teachers to grade, less time to provide individual attention, and higher stress levels. In a January 2022 survey, 3 in 5 members of the Maryland State Education Association reported they would be more likely to continue teaching if class sizes were smaller.
Larger class sizes also negatively impact students. The American Federation of Teachers advocates for the benefits of smaller class sizes—more individualized instruction, higher academic performance, and fewer behavioral problems.
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When teacher shortages occur, extra work is placed on each educator to help compensate for missing staff. Add in the unique circumstances of the pandemic and it is easy to see how educators have become overwhelmed with additional responsibilities over the past few years.
A May 2021 survey of 493 K-12 public school staff reported 2 in 5 teachers were working more hours than before the pandemic. Teaching online requires extra responsibilities related to technology, as well as additional effort to maintain consistent communication with students and their families. Upon returning to teach face-to-face, social distancing requirements and sanitizing classrooms have contributed to increased teacher workloads.
Extracurricular activities are crucial for the growth and development of school-age children—physically, emotionally, and socially. During the pandemic, access to these activities has decreased sharply across the country.
One example is the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America), a student organization that prepares youth for careers in agriculture. In May 2022, a high number of openings in agricultural teacher positions were reported across states from Illinois to Texas.
Sports teams, arts programs, and after-school clubs have been forced to meet virtually, if at all. Dartmouth Health notes this lack of social interaction has particularly affected adolescents, with increasing rates of depression and anxiety.
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Perhaps the most concerning repercussion of teacher shortages is a decline in students’ academic achievement. In a January 2022 study published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, test scores of 5.4 million third to eighth graders showed changes during the pandemic. Both reading and math scores dropped significantly. For elementary-age students, gaps in achievement between high and low-poverty schools were 15-20% wider in reading and math than those pre-pandemic.
An April 2022 article published by McKinsey & Company estimates students in North America are 4 months behind in their learning. Working to address teacher shortages and get students back on track is going to be a time-consuming and costly process.
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During the pandemic, teacher shortages have impacted specialized school programs just as much as standard classes. The U.S. Secretary of Education has issued a call to action to address vacancies in areas like bilingual Spanish-English education; science, math, and technology programs; and career and technical tracks.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported special education had the most teacher vacancies as of January 2022, with nearly half (45%) of schools reporting open positions. Some school districts have been forced to cut students from special education programs—like the Extended School Year program in Buffalo—due to a lack of staffing. Teacher shortages in these specialized programs affect some of the most high-need and vulnerable students at a time that is already difficult for youth and families.
This story originally appeared on HeyTutor and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
A parent shops for school supplies deals at a Target store, July 27, in North Miami, Florida.