The Very Real Costs of Free Public Education

As a child, Eduflack loved this time of year.  The start of a new school year meant new school supplies.  Just as I do today, back then I loved a good stationery store.  And as I do today, I was always looking for the unique product.  The Trapper Keeper design unlike the others.  The unique pens in inks other than blue and black.  Notebooks as narrowly ruled as possible to hold my small chicken scratch and not have it get lost on the page.  (And, interestingly, I never bought pencils, as I push down too hard when I write, thus unable to keep the point on any wood or mechanical pencil.  Even did my algebra and trig and calculus in pen.)

Each year, I would watch as my mother bought her school supplies as well.  My mom was (and is) a dedicated high school English teacher.  She’d buy videos (and now DVDs).  She order supplemental books and student incentives.  She’d have pens and pencils for those students without.  And she’d buy all of the communal products needed in her classroom.  It always seemed unfair to me, that she, instead of the school, had to buy all of the supplies for her classroom.  But that was the way it was, and she just waited for those sales when teachers got an extra 10% off.
Last week, the D.C. Examiner ran several stories on the “costs” of attending public schools.  Parents bemoaned the activity fees and snack fees and similar costs associated with going to school.  The tales of laundry lists of needed supplies seemed to be a bit of an overstatement.
Then I checked out the list for the kids of a close family friend.  This blue-collar family was preparing their first for the start of the new school year out in Loudoun County, Virginia.  Eduflack took a peek at the shopping list, and was shocked by both the length and the specificity involved.  
Three composition notebooks of three different colors (black, red, and blue), none with perforated or spiral pages.  One blue and one red plastic pocket folder.  One school box no larger than 5″ by 8″.  One box of crayons, 24 count only.  One pair of scissors with a 5″ sharp tip.
But that wasn’t all.  Those were for the student’s personal stash.  Then we moved into the student’s communal responsibilities.  Each student is required to provide the class 24 glue sticks of .21 ounces each, a 175-count box of tissues, 36 sharpened #2 pencils, and a box of 80 baby wipes.  Each girl in the class also had to bring a box of resealable plastic bags, quart size, and each boy had to bring a box of the same, in gallon size.
Imagine it.  In a class of 25, students are providing 600 communal glue sticks and nearly 900 sharpened pencils.  This cache would then supplement the students’ individual needs.  What teacher has the storage space?
It took shopping trips to three different stores, and several hundred dollars, to collect all of the items on the list.  And then there was the electric pencil sharpener needed to sharpen the 36 pencils (no surprise, no one sells sharpened pencils).  All, in large part, to get a six-year-old ready for school. 
Makes you want to ask where exactly all the per-pupil expenditures and rising property tax bills are going.

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