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Back-To-School Costs Test Many Families' Budgets

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 250,000 school children in North Carolina live below the poverty level.

Combine that with an increase in the number of layoffs and the rising cost of school supplies, and budgets are tight.

That means the state's tax free holiday comes at the right time for a lot of families.

Stores were packed Friday with people looking for back-to-school bargains. For all of them, saving a few dollars was a good thing.

The cost of returning to the classroom has gone up a lot in recent years. Students no longer need just pencils and paper. Teachers are asking for bigger-ticket items like markers, calculators and computer supplies.

It adds up quickly, putting a lot of family budgets to the test.

Cleo Fowlkes and her son, Arnold, were shopping for bookbags Friday. At $13 a bag, it is one of the more expensive items on Arnold's recommended supply list.

"It's a lot," Cleo said. "I have got to have all of this. I have two fifth-graders and a third-grader, so I have to have a lot of stuff."

Pencils, pens, and paper add up. Many schools put their supply lists online. WRAL checked a few and priced them. Here's what we found:

A first-grader is expected to spend $45. A fifth-grader, $80. A seventh-grader, $90.

It only gets worse in high school. Secondary students can spend as much as $145 on back-to-school supplies.

Perhaps more surprising than the prices could be the items now included on back-to-school supply lists -- items like computer disks, plastic bags, even baby wipes.

"I think there is too much," Cleo Fowlkes said. "Paper towels and tissue and Clorox . . . they don't need all that stuff. That's ridiculous."

Fowlkes expects to spend $300 to outfit her three children for school. On a tight budget, that is tough. But she said she has no choice.

"I've got to do it," she said. "They've got to have it, so it's a must. I just get out and do it, even if I don't want to."

So what if parents just can't afford to buy the supplies? In Wake County, each school has money set aside to supply kids with the basics.

In other schools, teachers have extra supplies in the classroom.

The idea of saving a couple dollars sits well with WRAL.com users. Almost half of the users say they'll definitely shop this weekend because of the tax break. A third said they might shop.

Only 20 percent of voters said they had no plans to hit the stores.


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