Bloomington resident Terri Klodzen lingered between the stacks of green and blue folders at Walmart Tuesday, searching for one of each that’s cheap but sturdy.
She’s noticed an increase in the price of school supplies, she said, but it’s still affordable while she’s only shopping for her oldest son, August Klodzen, a third grader at McCormick’s Creek Elementary School in Spencer. As a stay-at-home mother of five, though, she’s scared she won’t be able to afford school supplies in a few years.
“I’m very nervous for when we have to take all five of our kids shopping for school,” she said.
As the cost of basic necessities continues to rise due to inflation, parents and teachers are feeling the stress as the start of the 2022-23 school year approaches. In addition to rising costs of school supplies, families often have to buy new backpacks, clothes and other items before the school year begins.
Consumer prices increased about 8% between May 2021 and May 2022 — the biggest 12-month increase in 40 years — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Midwest, the price of groceries has increased by about 12%, while gas prices have increased by about 50%.
Nearly 9 in 10 shoppers for school-aged kids said inflation will affect how they shop this year, according to recent data from the National Retail Federation.
“It’s really hard,” said Phil Schuman, executive director of Indiana University’s Financial Wellness and Education. “The hope is that the inflation will go down at some point, and wages will sort of catch up to it, so families can start getting back to normal. But I think we’re a little ways off from that.”
The Monroe County Community School Corp. and Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. recently released their 2022-23 school supply lists, available on the school websites.
Each list varies depending on school and grade level. Supplies for some classes, such as fourth grade at Childs Elementary School, cost $87, according to a Walmart calculator that shows the cost of supplies from each MCCSC elementary school. Others, such as first grade at University Elementary School, cost $35.
School meal prices have increased in the MCCSC, too. For the past two years, meals were free for all students thanks to federal funds, but now lunches will cost $0.25 more and breakfasts will cost $0.10 more than the 2019-20 school year.
Teachers also face stress of inflation
As Klodzen scanned through her supplies list Tuesday, she saw more items she needed to buy for the classroom than in past years, including disinfectant wipes and dry erase markers.
She doesn’t blame teachers — her husband Neil, a teacher at Owen Valley High School, usually buys his own supplies — but she doesn’t think parents should have to pay for them either. It comes down to lack of funding from the state, she said.
Sue Cull, volunteer coordinator at the Teachers Warehouse in Bloomington, said she’s also seen the price of school supplies increase.
“I can’t tell you that it’s double,” she said, “but it’s certainly a lot more than we’ve paid in the past.”
The Teachers Warehouse, a place where school staff can stock up on needed supplies for free, serves 12 school systems in six counties, including Monroe. Last year, it served about 1,300 educators — assuming each teacher has a 1-to-20 student ratio, that’s more than 25,000 students.
Cull, a former teacher herself, said she knows teachers who pay up to $1,000 a year for school supplies. With donations and volunteer help from the community, the warehouse offsets those costs.
All of the supplies are used by students, Cull said, but some go directly back to them.
“We have, for example, three backpacks that a teacher can get,” Cull said. “And they fill them with supplies so that when kids come to class empty-handed, they can just discreetly give them what they need.”
The warehouse accepts school supply donations from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through the end of July.
Additionally, the warehouse will have its supply drive, where shoppers can buy supplies to directly donate, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 30 at the Office Depot, Staples, and several Kroger locations across Bloomington. This annual drive typically covers 25% of donations to the warehouse, Cull said.
How to get help paying for school supplies
The annual Monroe County Backpack Blitz, which provides backpacks filled with school supplies to low-income families in the county, is encouraging those interested in receiving supplies to sign up for its waitlist by calling 812-336-4310.
“I would highly recommend people still get on the waitlist,” Angelia Floyd, one of the organizers, said. “There’s still a good chance they’ll be able to get a backpack. … Not everyone will come and claim the backpack that they registered for, for various reasons.”
The Backpack Blitz is a community effort, with the Salvation Army, Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, First United Methodist Church and other churches and volunteers all collecting supplies. This year, it will provide backpacks to 550 students in Monroe County, Floyd said.
The event, which is July 26-27, is still accepting volunteers through a link on its Facebook page. Monetary donations are also being accepted, Floyd said, although direct donations of supplies won’t be accepted due to COVID-19 precautions.
Families with children in an MCCSC elementary school can visit Walmart’s Back to School page to calculate how much school supplies will cost for each child. Additionally, websites such as pricegrabber.com can price match supplies from different locations.
In general, Schuman, the IU financial expert, said many families — especially those with young children — will likely have to have difficult conversations about budgeting as inflation continues to increase the price of basic necessities.
He suggested those families sit down and have a pre-planned conversation about what necessities are the highest priority. For many, this will include school supplies, but maybe not the whole list.
It’s vital to schedule the conversation, Schuman said, so each family member has the opportunity to collect their thoughts beforehand.
“There’s never been a calm, logical conversation that just comes about from an impromptu, random talk about money,” he said. “And it’s important to remember that everyone is probably doing the best they can with what they have.”
Contact Christine Stephenson at [email protected].