A pen. A pencil. A piece of paper. Neither of these should be a barrier that prevents a child from receiving an education. Yet, for far too many their expense serves as a built-in impediment to learning. Studies show that an unprepared student lacks confidence and is simply unable to access learning when they do not have the tools they need to do so. The embarrassment associated with not having supplies and the need to consistently borrow from others can also lead to anxiety that in some cases results in the student not attending class at all.

Many parents work multiple jobs to barely make ends meet. So, purchasing back-to-school supplies and clothing that can cost them more than $500 on average according to a study by Deloitte, is simply out of the question. In an effort to keep things on track, teachers, who are often overworked and underpaid, dig into their own pockets to purchase supplies for their over-sized classrooms. The NY Times recently reported that on average, these teachers are spending nearly $500 a year out of their own money to fill the gap. This is almost double the $250 federal tax deduction available to them. Students from lower income households who attend public schools and their teachers, who increasingly endure budget cuts, are particularly affected by these realities.

As a proud product of the Chicago Public School system, who attended quality public schools for both elementary and high school, I understand the challenges all too well. Although I grew up in a middle-class home, back to school shopping was quite expensive, especially for my parents who had to purchase supplies and clothes for a son and twin daughters. Additionally, I have seen my sister, cousins and great aunt – all teachers - devote a significant amount of their time and money serving lower-income students. The challenges are exhausting. However, I also know the rewards that come from students who are adequately prepared to engage in the learning process.