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Michelle Wirth / RiverTown Multimedia

Back-to-school expenses vary as supply lists add up

HASTINGS, Minn. — Anna Fox is no stranger to back-to-school shopping.

Walking from aisle to aisle in the school supplies section, Fox filled her basket with items on the shopping list. Fox was shopping for two children in the Hastings school district, one in elementary school and the other in middle school.

Back-to-school shopping can be fun for the kids, Fox said. But for the parents, it can get a little frustrating. Some of the items on a school supply list might be very specific or the store might run out.

Then there is the price tag.

"It can be spendy, it's surprising," Fox said.

The cost for school supplies added up to more than $50 per student, according to a survey of school districts. In some cases, the cost of the supplies added up to over $100 per student. Districts surveyed include Farmington, Hastings, Red Wing, Rosemount and South Washington County in Minnesota and Ellsworth, Hudson, Plum City, St. Croix Central, Somerset and Spring Valley in Wisconsin.

Common items on the lists included pencils, spiral notebooks, colored pencils, markers, loose leaf paper and more. The most expensive items on the lists were headphones, specific calculators and physical education gear.

The third-grade and eighth-grade school supply lists in Farmington approached $125. Some of the more expensive items included stretchable book covers, backpacks, clothing for physical education. Spring Valley eighth-graders' list also exceeded $120 with similar requirements.

The eighth-graders attending school in Ellsworth were not far behind with their list adding up to $114.

Many of the other districts' lists didn't include common items such as backpacks or lunch boxes.

Districts are quick to stress that supplies will need to be replaced throughout the year.

Administrators also urge families having difficulty purchasing supplies to contact the district office for assistance.

Earlier this summer, the Minnesota Department of Revenue acknowledged the added expense of back-to-school shopping for families. The department released a statement at the end of July reminding parents to save their receipts because most school supplies could qualify for K-12 tax benefits on 2017 Minnesota income tax returns.

Angie Branum has a daughter going into fifth grade at Greenwood Elementary in River Falls. She said that she spent about $60 on school supplies for this year, but she already had some of the staple items including a backpack, lunch box, shoes and clothes. Her experience with back-to-school shopping is typically uneventful but every now and then there are items on the list that are unavailable in a quantity that makes sense or the list is not detailed enough.

"One year I couldn't find the specific brand of disinfecting wipes requested, even after looking at several stores," she said.

This year, Branum said that she had a hard time with the six fine-tip black dry erase markers. She could only find them in a 12 pack. However, for the most she enjoys back to school supply shopping which is often associated with a special lunch or dinner out with her daughter.

Classroom supplies

Several school supply lists across the region include items that might be more geared toward stocking the classroom rather than what one student will need. Lists included tissues, paper plates, zippered plastic bags, baby wipes and even a cash donation for the class.

Fox said that she understands why some of those items are included in back-to-school shopping. Her children have allergies so she knows they are using Kleenexes and she contemplates sending in extra boxes.

However, she said that she understands the need to include those items because "otherwise I think what happens is the teachers end up having to supply it and I don't think that should have to come out of their pocket."

Amy Sutton has an 11-year-old and 13-year-old of her own. They attend middle school in the Rosemount district. She said that they still had several school items leftover from last year, including backpacks, but when she took them supply shopping she still spent an easy $120.

"It's costly, but if we don't step up, the teachers get hit with it," she said.

Sutton said that she knows anything she invests in the classroom benefits her children and their learning so she is willing to help with some of the classroom expense.


With the high cost of school supplies, not every family can afford to purchase all the necessary items. That is why many districts have a program or community effort to support students whose family may not be able to pay for items they will need.

Jennifer Stieve is the mother of a fourth-grader and a kindergartener in the South Washington County Schools.

"(I think) that it's important to make sure that every student feels ready to start school with all the supplies they need," Stieve said.

That is why, in addition to her own supplies shopping, Stieve supports the supply drive organized by the school district. She said that it is something easy for people to do that will help local kids.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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