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Back To School

Illinois shoppers will get a “tax holiday” on school supplies through Aug. 14.

Marta Lavandier

With soaring inflation, Chicago parents are searching for back-to-school deals

Back to school means stocking up on pencils, notebooks and crayons, but many parents now are also asked to buy classroom supplies like paper towels, sponges and disinfectant wipes. The lengthy list of school supplies had shoppers this weekend searching for deals and taking advantage of a rare “tax holiday.”

The start of the new school year comes as inflation reached a four-decade high in June as prices over the past 12 months increased by 9.1%. In an attempt to combat surging inflation, state leaders last week offered a 10-day sales tax reduction on classroom needs, but city and county taxes still have shoppers feeling the pain in their wallet.

Chicagoan Elena Napp said she typically spends about $150 per year on school supplies.

“We’re getting our little guy ready for third grade,” Napp said outside a Lincolnwood Walmart. “And he’s going to need some clothes, school supplies, a lunch box, a backpack … all the good stuff. So the tax break definitely helps.”

Since last Friday, the state sales tax on school materials -- including clothing -- was reduced from 6.25% to 1.25% through Aug. 14.

The 5 percentage point drop in the sales tax means that instead of paying $15.63 in tax for $250 worth of goods, a shopper would pay $3.13, a savings of 80%. However, that wouldn’t represent the entire sales tax bill because many cities and counties also impose sales tax.

Chicago shoppers will still pay 5.25% because of a 1.25% city tax, a 1.75% Cook County tax and a 1% special tax. Local sales taxes in Aurora amount to 3.25%; in Rockford, 3.75%; in Quincy, 4%; in Springfield, 4.75% and in Belleville, 4.1%.

Chicagoan Sonya Barnes, who has two school-aged children, said she often shops outside the city to try and find lower prices.

“When you have a lot of kids, you have to save,” Barnes said. “You have to put money away for this and that, and the tax break is lovely … I spend a lot, and [the tax break] can save a lot. When you’re shopping for kids in school there are certain things they have to have. My son has to have a certain kind of calculator and it’s a lot [of money].”

Jay Carrero, a Chicago parent with two sons who typically spends hundreds of dollars on school supplies, didn’t mince words about the current economy: “It’s an arm and a leg out here.”

Parents aren’t the only shoppers getting a break on school supplies this year. Teachers will get a discount through tax credits — that is, a reduction in the amount of state taxes owed — of $250 this year and $500 in 2023.

Teachers spend an average of $750 out of pocket on supplies and materials to prepare their classrooms for an influx of students, said Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker.

“A lot of times, those supplies go to students who need help,” Booker said.

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