How Families Can Navigate School Expenses in 2020

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Many parents have taught their children to look for a silver lining in any bad situation. As a parent, I try to remind myself of this during this pandemic. My family has gotten to spend more quality time as a family than ever before. Our after-work hours have been freed up, which allows us time to go outside, take walks, play board games, and catch up on some old favorite movies. We’ve even found time to make some cookies and banana bread—something we never did before this pandemic. In all of the craziness that is COVID-19, we have tried to make the best of a very difficult situation.

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While I try to remain optimistic, I am also a realist. I am aware that this year has been rough on families. Our normal lives have been disrupted. Parents and children are anxious. Families face economic struggles. Schools are changing their plans every day for the return to school. There is so much that is unknown. Families are asking themselves what the future will hold. Many parents, like me, are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.

School Budget Cuts

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School districts are also facing tough times. States have had to redirect money to other pressing matters, which leaves less money for education. Politicians have had to make dramatic cuts to school budgets that are affecting the day-to-day lives of students and teachers:

  • Schools have cut bussing, which requires students (and parents) to find a different way to get to and from school each day. 
  • Teachers have been cut, which means there are more students in every classroom in a time when social distancing is being encouraged. 
  • Schools have cut support staff, which means that students have fewer counselors, librarians, nurses, and educational assistants to help them navigate their days. 

Of course, teachers and administrators are doing all they can to make the best of a less than ideal situation. They are used to “doing more with less.” However, the budget cuts still affect students, families, and communities as they start the 2020-21 school year.

Parents Feel the Strain

As schools cut essential services, parents are left trying to fill the gaps. Parents are searching to fund transportation expenses to get their kids to school. If children are now at home while parents are still working outside the home, parents might need to pay for childcare expenses that they have never had to incur. As schools cannot use their funds to purchase extra supplies, parents are asked to furnish classrooms with hand sanitizer, Kleenex, dry erase markers, and more. This is in addition to any supplies they need to purchase for their student’s personal use. If students are virtually schooling from home, parents might need to make bigger investments in Chromebooks and upgraded Wi-Fi. There is a lot of money being used by parents to cover additional education costs these days.

How Do We Make This Better?

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While financial situations are tough right now, there is always a way to work toward improvement and progress. Taking any small bit of control over the situation can help families feel hopeful for positive change. 

Here are some ways to improve this financial situation for families:

Work together with other families.

If bussing has been cut, establish a neighborhood carpool to help everyone get transported safely to school. If childcare is a concern, see if other families would like to take turns watching all the kiddos every other day. If one family has a parent who is a math whiz and another family has a parent who is fluent in Spanish, help each other’s children with their homework. 

Ask your workplace for flexibility.

This is definitely worth a try. Explain to your supervisor what would make your family’s situation work best—changing to weeknights, working more weekends, leaving an hour earlier, etc. The smallest changes can make a big difference if you don’t have to pay for childcare or other expenses based on your work schedule.

Reach out to the school.
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Ask administrators to solicit donations from nearby corporations. If a corporation could send over pencils, pens, paper, or any other supplies, parents would have less purchases to make. Ask the administrators if they are loaning out Chromebooks so you won’t have to purchase one. See of the administration is working hard to grab every bit of grant money they can to fund the school’s needs.

Encourage lower school fees.

School board members need to be made aware of the numerous financial burdens being placed on parents during this time. Unnecessary and expensive requirements for student-funded supplies need to be cut. Perhaps the student agenda doesn’t need to be purchased by every student this year. Maybe foreign language workbooks can be replaced with free materials found online. For graduating seniors, a more cost-effective vendor (such as Graduation Source) can be used to purchase caps and gowns at a more reasonable price than other companies.

The Bottom Line

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As schools are facing numerous budget cuts, parents are being asked to make up the difference. These parents and their families are also struggling to make ends meet and cannot be expected to fill the financial gaps created by the loss of educational funding. However, the situation is not hopeless. There are actions we can take to improve this.

We, as parents, have to lead our communities and school districts to help make more fiscally responsible choices that will ultimately help all parties involved. We will work together and team up with other families in our school districts to reduce the personal financial burdens families face and to advocate for fiscal changes throughout our communities.

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