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School supplies’ cost rises

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The National Retail Federation estimates that families in the United States spent more than $17.4 billion on K-12 school supplies last year. Here, Elaine Yanazaki looks over school supplies at Longs Drug Store in McCully.
This story has been corrected. See below.



As Hawaii’s nearly 213,600 public and private school students in kindergarten through 12th grade prepare to go back to school next month, parents will be dishing out substantially more than they did a decade ago.

While wide-ruled paper and black-and-white composition books are still a mainstay on school supply lists, laptops and thumb drives that are now being required at some schools can add significantly to a family’s budget.

The National Retail Federation estimated that American families spent more than $17.4 billion on K-12 school supplies last year, including $5.3 billion on electronics, or $167 per person. That’s up from the $3.8 billion, or $114 per person, that families spent on electronics in 2006.

"The world has changed a lot from 10 to 20 years ago," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "The Internet—now versus then—plays a more dominant role in the learning process and requires students today to be a lot more plugged in."

First-graders at Island Pacific Academy are required to have thumb drives, while middle school students need to have laptops that they can lease for $400 to $600 a year from the school. High school students must have a laptop of their own, according to Dan White, headmaster and founder of Island Pacific Academy in Kapolei.

"It’s not a list my father would’ve recognized," he said. "We’re having the kids in elementary school access the Internet and do power points. The bottom line is that means there is a cost that’s beyond tuition."

Laptops, which range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars, are also required for high school students at Maryknoll School since classes are held throughout the property, not just in the classroom.

Every teacher has a social networking platform and is in constant communication with students throughout the day.

"Obviously a major focus for us right now is laptop computers," said Perry Martin, president for Maryknoll School, adding that many kids come to school with their own iPods and other electronics.

Some teachers even record their lessons, which students can download on their hand-held devices, he said.

Other high-priced electronics that are being required in schools these days are scientific calculators that can cost as much as $250 a pop.

Even without buying a lot of electronic gear, the price for school supplies adds up.

Kailua resident Julie Wilson spends at least $100 for each of her two sons who attend Kalaheo High School. That includes classroom supplies such as paper towels, which schools no longer provide.

"Costs have doubled if you don’t hit the sales," she said. "That means you’re going to use the pencil down to a nub—no more throwing it away after you chewed off the eraser. It all comes at one time, so it is a big expense."

Although Kalaheo does not require students to have laptops, it is almost imperative—with fewer school days in the year—that students have a home computer, Wilson said.

"In-class instruction time is so much less, so getting the basics of what needs to be done, you need to have a computer and printer available to you at home," she said.

In addition, access to video cameras and other electronic gadgets is also necessary for multimedia projects that have become commonplace in schools.

Since the rising cost of school supplies can take "a chunk of your budget," Wilson clips coupons, compares Sunday ads and goes as far as asking for price matching at different stores.

"Sometimes it’s worth a drive to the other side," she said. "It can take a bite out of your pocketbook, so whenever they’re on sale I always overbuy."

As technology evolves and learning becomes more dependent on technology, school officials expect iPods, hand-held and tablet devices (for online textbooks) and even cell phones with picture and video capabilities will become required for multimedia projects in no time.

"I think that’s in the cards," White said. "Most of the schools will say students can’t have cell phones in class until somebody figures out it might be a way of connecting kids around the world."



» In an earlier version, Perry Martin was incorrectly identified as the principal of Maryknoll School.


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