May 3, 2017

On today's show we discuss the increasing cost of school supplies and talk with Caitlin Collings-Domingo, Community Engagement Manager of the nonprofit Schoolhouse Supplies. 

From binders and backpacks to USB drives and other gadgets, ballooning back-to-school supply lists are pinching poor families’ budgets and creating what some see as a have and have-not public education system.  When it comes to things like school supplies, those are the things that can make or break your budget.  The cost of everything keeps going up…then it makes everything else a struggle.

Americans were expected to spend $75.8 billion on back-to-school supplies this current school year — $7.8 billion more than last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey.  

Many have noticed that, in addition to pencils, binders and backpacks, the list now includes items like wet wipes, spray cleaner, and even reams of copier paper.  School districts, many facing tighter budgets, have effectively outsourced the financial obligation by requesting that parents pick up the cost of these supplies. While this situation is a hassle for middle-class parents, it’s a much bigger burden for poor families, who already struggle just to outfit their own kids for school.

For families struggling to provide food for their families, school supplies are clearly not at the top of their list.

Technology is another culprit behind the increasing cost and, more and more, is a requirement for young people to participate.   School supplies are a great example of barriers that preclude these families from being able to break the cycle of poverty.

This can hurt these children socially because they don’t have what the other kids have and they know it … and it hurts them in the classroom when kids don’t even have notebooks to write down their assignments.  They lose a sense of belonging. They are, right from the start, set apart.  It materially compromises their ability to learn.

Even with piecemeal efforts by nonprofits and individuals, experts say the bigger picture is troubling. The quality of your education shouldn’t vary with your ability to pay.  

And this is where one charity is working hard to make a difference in their community, both for the students and teachers.

While in Portland, Oregon last month, we had the chance to talk with Caitlin Collings-Domingo, Community Engagement Manager of the nonprofit Schoolhouse Supplies.

Schoolhouse Supplies operates Oregon’s first and only Free Store for Teachers to provide teachers with the classroom supplies needed to encourage the learning process for all students, and the Tools for Schools backpack program to support the highest-need school communities in Portland. Today, we are a nationally recognized leader in the Free Store movement, which creates direct links between students and members of the community.

Their organization is based on the belief that every child deserves school supplies and has the right to a quality education regardless of circumstance.

Adrian and Ethan
Adrian and Ethan

Today we hear from John Bierly and Kimberly O'Keefe.  Kimberly will be joining John as a Peace Fund correspondent, sharing news from The Peace Fund and bringing listeners our Heroes of the Week.