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The Cost for Parents to Educate Their Children

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January 23, 2016

Each year, at the end of August and beginning of September, many families with school-age children look forward to the start of a new school year. Along with this excitement, parents often must also face the not so thrilling reality of paying for a number of education-related expenses. In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released in August of 2014, a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 is expected to spend about $54,806 (adjusted for projected inflation) for childcare and education up to age 18.

Back-to-school expenses alone can cost parents hundreds of dollars per child. In fact, for this current school year, the National Retail Federation predicted that the average family would spend almost $670 to provide their K-12 student with clothes, shoes, and school supplies, and essential electronics such as tablets and graphing calculators.

In addition, Huntington Bank's 2014 Backpack Index found double-digit cost increases for families sending K-12 students to school this year. The Index revealed that parents could expect to pay $642 for elementary school children, an 11% increase compared to 2013; $918 for middle school children, a 20% increase compared to 2013; and $1,284 for high school students, a 5% increase compared to 2013.

Unfortunately, these cost increases greatly outpaced the almost stagnant growth in wages for working families. The Index noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly nonfarm payroll earnings rose only 2.05% between May 2013 and May 2014. Furthermore, the back-to-school cost increases also surpassed inflation as the Consumer Price Index rose only 2.1% during that same period. Thus, it is evident that the financial challenge faced by many families to send their children prepared for the school year is becoming increasingly difficult to meet.

Back-to-school expenses, however, are not the only costs for which parents must often provide. While not a mandatory expense, many schools have foundations and fundraising programs in which families are highly encouraged to participate. Moreover, schools commonly ask families to make donations to support certain programs or personnel positions. Other costs can include paying for textbooks, computer hardware and educational software, diagnostic evaluations, tutoring, special education services, academic after-school programs, summer school fees, and transportation. For families with high school students, the cost of taking college preparatory test classes and tests is an additional financial strain.

Parents who have enrolled their children in a private school have significantly greater education costs in the form of tuition while also still having to pay for many of the same expenses mentioned above. For example, in the diocese of San Diego, the average tuition per child at a Catholic elementary school is $5,000 per year and $15,000 per year at a Catholic high school. Given this figure, it is not surprising that, in a study recently conducted by the diocese of San Diego in conjunction with the University of San Diego, the overwhelming reason that was given for not sending children to Catholic schools was the cost to attend those schools (93%). Unfortunately, these costs continue to rise.

In an effort to provide greater access to high quality education for all children in California, allowing contributions from the private sector and providing for tax credits and deductions to families must be explored. Unlike state general education funds, education tax relief would allow parents to choose supplementary resources that are individualized to their children's needs, such as tutoring for a special learning disability or deficiency or for transportation to an after-school or extracurricular program. Ultimately, parents must be supported in their unique and essential role as the primary educators of their children.