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If you thought Christmas financially got your pockets in a bind, did you realize Back To School shopping is another money breaker?

According to GreatSchools.org:

The U.S. economy may be just limping along, but that’s not stopping many families from shelling out big bucks on school supplies. In fact, according to recent research, back-to-school season is now the second most profitable shopping period of the year. A survey by retail consultant Deloitte found that 88 percent of families surveyed plan to spend the same or more this year as they did in 2011, and 27 percent expect to spend more than $500 on back-to-school purchases.

All this money isn’t just going for alligator skin backpacks and gold-plated bento boxes. Facing major school budget cuts, some schools are asking parents to donate supplies for the classroom — including everything from copy paper to disinfectant wipes.

What’s next, toilet paper?

At one elementary school in San Francisco, for example, parents received a list of more than 20 items — including paper towels, glue sticks, and boxes of tissues — that they were asked to bring in on the first day of school.

According to GreatSchools’ informal (and yes, utterly unscientific) survey we learned that at schools across the country, parents are being asked (pressured?) to pitch in. At least one Chicago charter high school requires families to bring in one ream of copy paper per student, among other supplies, for example. Second grade families at an elementary school in Montgomery County, a prosperous district that borders Washington DC, were asked to bring in hand soap, ziplock bags, disinfectant wipes, and other basics.

“Schools are asking more and more of parents, and of teachers too; teachers end up digging into their own pockets to pay for supplies every year,” a parent at the school pointed out. “Meanwhile, this is a wealthy district; we’ve had some cutbacks, but we have a school-wide video system, and Promethean boards [interactive white boards] in every classroom. I don’t mind donating supplies, I just question the priorities.”

It depends on your definition of the word “free”

Most schools are careful to call the supply requests “donations” — though a parent at the San Francisco school cited above said that many parents thought the purchases were mandatory. Meanwhile, an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California found that in more than 50 California school districts, some schools are essentially charging families for educational programs by requiring fees for mandatory items like workbooks and sports uniforms. The ACLU charges that this is a violation of the California constitution, which requires the state to provide a free public education, and is suing the State of California and the governor.

With schools across the country facing merciless budget cuts, and growing support for leaner government, parents shouldn’t expect the back-to-school wish lists to go away any time soon. We’d like to hear what’s happening at your child’s school. Were you asked to donate back-to-school supplies? If so, is this practice new, or has it been going on for a while? What do you think of these requests? Drop us a line when you get out of that shopping line!

Words By: GreatSchools.org
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