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Economy Project: Cutting School Costs


By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX –

Over the next few weeks, many North Texas school districts will hold back-to-school fairs. They offer opportunities to stock up on classroom supplies and receive needed check-ups. School can be expensive. In today's ongoing economy series, KERA's Bill Zeeble explores ways to cut costs now and save money throughout the school year. He starts at a back-to-school fair held last week.

A record turnout of about 60,000 parents and children flooded the mayor's back-to-school fair in Dallas last week. Qualified low-income students lined up for free services, including vaccinations and dental check-ups. Volunteers gave away other basics - rulers, books, pencils. Denise South, her three young children in tow, came here for the first time.

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"I lost my job in April and I needed some help on school supplies, basic stuff that's probably needed to start them off," said South. "I mean, it's a big deal to me because it's helping me out."

Other help is available to parents shopping for their children, thanks to the state's tax-free weekend. It's scheduled August 21 through the 23, just before school starts. Texas PTA executive director Kyle Ward says he and state lawmakers fought to add school supplies to the tax-free list. This year it includes essentials like pens and calculators.

"School supplies per student can typically run anywhere from $50 to $75 per student," says Ward. "So taking advantage of the tax-free weekend can save considerable dollars, particularly for families with multiple children."

But the help goes beyond shopping bargains and back-to-school fairs. If you need more assistance, perhaps for the first time, your school district offers year-round help. Ask about the options when you register or enroll your children. Just go the principal's office at your school.

Your child may receive subsidized meals, free health services, psychological counseling, even school uniforms or clothes. Officials say parents shouldn't be ashamed to ask. You may need to fill out forms and produce a photo ID or proof of residency. Also ask about reduced fees for field trips and extra-curricular activities. Barbara Kelly, who went to last week's school fair with her daughter and fifth grade grandson, considers the assistance priceless.

"It's important because to me, kids need our help," says Kelly. "They're raising these children. They do need school supplies for education and to move on in life, as far as I can say."

For more information about school fairs in your district, check your district's web page. And for more school cost-cutting information, visit our special website,

Email Bill Zeeble