TWIN FALLS — After adding back-to-school supplies to her online Walmart shopping cart, Heyburn mother Linda Lopez was surprised to see the total: $279.
She has five children who’ll go to Heyburn Elementary School this year: kindergarten, first, second, third and fifth graders.
Lopez — a single mother who’s a daycare provider and studying to become a teacher — said it’s so frustrating when schools don’t have the money to provide items such as whiteboard markers, disinfecting wipes or copy paper.
“To me, these are things the school should be supplying, not parents,” she said.
Lopez saves unused supplies her children bring home each school year. That helps cut down on some back-to-school shopping costs.
She has seen information circulating on Facebook about ways parents can get assistance with school supplies, but she hasn’t asked for help. “There’s always somebody more needy out there,” she said.
If you have children, you — like Lopez — have probably spent time recently in a crowded back-to-school shopping aisle or on a store website.
With only weeks to go until the first day of school — ranging from mid-August to early September across south-central Idaho — what can you expect to find on school supply lists? Fewer brand names and fewer shared classroom items.
For the Twin Falls School District and many others across the area, it’s the second year of pared down supply lists.
“After the Joki lawsuit, everyone took a hard look at our school supply lists,” said Eva Craner, spokeswoman for the Twin Falls School District.
In a 2015 case, a judge ruled the West Ada School District failed to provide a free education to a Meridian family because it charged fees for certain classes.
Fourth District Judge Richard Greenwood addressed only the fees charged to Russell Joki’s grandchildren while they attended the school district, but the ruling has caused ripple effects statewide. Greenwood agreed with Joki that fees are unconstitutional.
Many schools voluntarily eliminated fees last school year and revamped school supply lists to avoid possible legal action.
Now, parents are supposed to bring only “personal-use items” for their child, such as notebooks and crayons. And if a student brings pencils, for example, they stay with that student instead of being divided among the entire class.
Extra supplies, like tissues and disinfecting wipes for the classroom, are optional to buy. And class and registration fees aren’t generally required.
But teachers are allowed to ask if parents are willing to make a donation to the classroom as a whole. And many do.
Another change across the Magic Valley: Many school supply lists don’t include brand names, such as Dixon Ticonderoga pencils or Kleenex.
“We’d rather err on the side of caution,” said Beth Olmstead, principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Twin Falls.
If you have a question about which brand tends to work better, though, Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner recommends you ask your child’s teacher.
Overall, schools are cutting down the number of items on supply lists.
“We’ve asked teachers to really pare it down to the necessities,” said Angie Brulotte, principal of Jefferson Elementary School in Jerome.
School administrators ask teachers to think how much it may cost for a family, she said. “So many of our teachers are on pretty tight budgets themselves, so they’re pretty thoughtful.”
Brulotte said she’s always “super impressed” by how many families make an effort to send their children to school with supplies. But she estimates about 25 percent of students struggle to bring all of the necessary supplies.
But families shouldn’t worry if they can’t afford to bring all of the school supplies, educators say. They’ll educate any child who shows up, regardless of what they bring.
A helping hand
Each year, several local nonprofit organizations — including South Central Community Action Partnership and the Twin Falls Salvation Army — help provide school supplies for families in need.
The Twin Falls Salvation Army is accepting applications through Aug. 16. It plans to help between 100 and 150 children this year — each, with about $30-$50 worth of school supplies.
“It’s a very simple, one-page application,” Lt. Felicia Cook said, and families don’t need to demonstrate financial need.
To get an application, visit the nonprofit’s Facebook page or visit the office at 348 Fourth Ave. N. in Twin Falls.
The Salvation Army also plans to give away a few new backpacks at its back-to-school celebration from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 19.
Want to help out? The Salvation Army is collecting donations of school supplies in bins at Fred Meyer, ShopKo and St. Luke’s.
Across south-central Idaho, some parent-teacher associations — including in Richfield and Hollister — raised money this year to buy school supplies for the entire school.
In Richfield, parents sold old city street signs that were recently replaced. The group raised about $2,700 and received a donation from Glanbia Foods.
Lincoln Elementary School in Twin Falls, which has a high poverty rate among its students, has a school supply closet, which is stocked with donations, including new backpacks.
At this time of year, Olmstead frequently has individuals and groups asking how they can help with school supply donations.
If you’re a family struggling to pay for school supplies, Wendell Elementary School principal Paula Chapman has a suggestion: Talk with your child’s teacher or school secretary.
“Don’t not ask,” she said. “We’ll be discreet.”