Kansas City Star. August 15, 2023.
Editorial: Kansas, give parents a school supply tax holiday. Missouri does it — why not you?
Kids across Kansas are returning to school this week. For many young people, it’s a joyous time of year, full of fresh starts and new experiences for young students. But it can also be a strain on their families, who must cope with the ever-increasing cost of school supplies like new clothes, backpacks, paper, pencils and more.
What would help? A school supplies sales tax holiday, like the one they have next door in Missouri.
Kansas leaders could help. So far, though, they’ve passed up the opportunity to help the state’s students and their parents.
The return to school can be fairly expensive. A July survey by the National Retail Federation found that families with school-age children — elementary to high school — expected to spend an average of $890 on supplies this year. In 2019, the last fall before the pandemic upended both the economy and education, that number was just $697.
That big hike in school expenses can largely be attributed to pandemic-era inflation, and the state’s Republican leaders have been eager to place the blame on spending by President Joe Biden. The budgets of Kansas parents “are already suffering from high prices everywhere,” Rep. Ron Estes of Wichita wrote Monday on Twitter.
Perhaps. State leaders could be more helpful, however.
REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED LEGISLATURE DIDN’T ACT
During its most recent session, the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature was offered at least three opportunities to approve a sales tax holiday to reduce the cost of school supplies. One bill would have authorized a two-day holiday every August on sales taxes for “school supplies, school instructional materials or school art supplies having a sales price of $100 or less.” A second bill would have offered a four-day break in July on school supplies, clothing and some computer software. A third would have offered a similar four-day break with somewhat different parameters.
“It will certainly serve thousands of families and teachers who oftentimes have to buy supplies for their own classroom,” a representative of the League of Kansas Municipalities said during a January committee hearing on the topic.
None of the bills went anywhere.
Why? It’s not clear. Reports at the time suggested the effort had broad support from educators and a variety of other interest groups. But the legislation seems simply not to have been a priority for Republicans who spent the session focusing on a failed and ill-considered flat-tax revamp of the state’s revenue system.
REVENUE VERSUS PARENTS ON THE BUDGET
What we know is this: Kansas can afford to give parents a break.
Yes, a sales tax holiday does mean that the state, cities and counties have to forgo some revenue for a few days. The most costly of the three bills would have delivered an estimated $9.3 million hit to the state budget. Which sounds like a lot, but remember: Legislators were looking at a roughly $3 billion budget surplus during their most recent session.
The benefits of a tax break for families is obvious. It might also help some Kansas businesses.
The Federation of Tax Administrators reports that 11 states, including Missouri, have tax holidays specifically designated for school supplies. Several more, including Oklahoma, have August tax holidays more narrowly focused on clothing and footwear. Sunflower State officials report that more than a few Kansans “jump the border” to the neighboring states to take advantage of the cheaper prices to outfit their kids for the new academic year. That’s money that could be spent closer to home.
It is obviously too late to help Kansas parents — and businesses — this year. But it is not too early for state leaders to start thinking about how they can do better in the future.
As The Star’s Joseph Hernandez noted earlier this month, Gov. Laura Kelly last year proposed a Kansas sales tax holiday for the first weekend of every August. “Shopping for school supplies can be tough,” she said. “The supply list is long and expenses add up.”
That’s right. The question now is whether Republicans will heed the call to help Kansas families.