Index: School costs rise 6%

By Jamison Cocklin


Columbus-based Huntington Bank has released its 2012 Backpack Index, which shows that parents can expect to pay 6 percent more than they did in 2011 for back-to-school supplies.

Now in its fourth year, the index is compiled by obtaining classroom supply lists from schools across six states and then cross- referencing those lists with the costs of common supplies at moderately priced retailers such as Staples, OfficeMax and Big Lots.

Highlights from the report show a 3.4 percent increase in elementary-school supplies, where parents can expect to pay $548 on items ranging from pens, notebooks and lunch supplies to extracurricular costs.

Middle-school students can expect a 5.8 percent increase, or about $724. High-school students will pay the most in the 2012-13 school year, with costs averaging about $1,117.45, only a 2.2 percent increase, but steep nonetheless, according to bank officials.

“Consumers are still feeling the pinch,” said George Mokrzan, director of economics at Huntington Bank, in a statement released with the report. “Continuing increases in back-to-school supplies and fees put quite a burden on working families. It will be a challenge for families with tight budgets to maximize opportunities for their school-age children this year.”

In 2011, Huntington reported a 25 percent increase in the cost of back-to-school supplies from 2010. Last year’s increase was driven in large part by a broad pay-to-play fee for school sports teams and other school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

This year’s increase resulted from a variety of small hikes in the costs of common supplies and a substantial increase in musical-instrument rental fees, according to the report.

Claudia Charity, manager of community partnerships for the Youngstown City School District, who oversees fundraising efforts and school-supply drives with area private companies and nonprofit organizations, said the reality of cost increases hurts a school system as large as Youngstown’s.

“If you look at the economy, unemployment and poverty in Youngstown, parents have more financial challenges in general,” Charity said. “Some parents can’t afford to buy uniforms for their kids.”

This is why private-public partnerships are a big help in the region. Charity cited several companies and church groups that consistently help with school supplies.

Karen Ingraham, a school district spokeswoman, said the system launched the “Teacher Wish List” last year. Available at, that list will be updated soon and allows community members to see what is most needed in the classroom and helps donors make better contributions.

The National Retail Federation reported that, nationwide, the average family can expect to pay $688 for K-12 students going back to school this year.

According to a Capital One survey, 59 percent of parents said their back-to-school shopping plans will be influenced by current economic concerns, while 42 percent said school budget cuts will greatly affect their spending.

For the most part, the survey demonstrated the “needs versus wants” conversations taking place between parents and students considering clothing, common supplies and the latest electronic gadgets.

“Across the country, we’ve seen an increase in costs and a decrease in funding throughout public schools,” said Stephanie Shaw, executive director of the Eastern Ohio P-16 Partnership for Education, which helps schools throughout the Mahoning Valley.

“Parents who can afford it, and those who don’t have children, can pick up $5 worth of school supplies at the nearest big-box store and simply drop them off at their local school.”

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