KING COUNTY, Wash. - As families get ready to send their children back to school, some worry how they are going to pay for things they need to be successful in the classroom. This is true for some households in south King County that make far less money than the county’s average income.
Tukwila School District and Auburn School District made the decision to offer a simple gesture that is adding up for its students. Both districts are providing grade-appropriate school supplies for every student at no charge. It’s one less expense families can check off their lists. For some, those free supplies add up to so much more.
"The families that come in here, they’re often facing hardship. Maybe they’re looking for a new place to live. Maybe something else is going on. But this could be one less shift they have to take at work and they can spend with their kids or this could be money they’re putting towards a tablet or towards more books or a new outfit," said Brian Akers, a kindergarten teacher at Tukwila Elementary School.
The 2020 Census showed the median household income in Tukwila is $63,053. That’s more than $36,000 less than the King County average, at $99,158. Auburn is also below, with $76,410 per household.
Cindi Blansfield, Auburn School District’s associate superintendent of business and operations, said 63 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. To help families save on expenses, the district will also offer free breakfast and lunch for every child this year.
"We talk about equity in action, right? Everybody has access to the supplies that they need and we remove any barriers, any financial obstacles so the kids have what they need to be successful," said Blansfield.
Community members said these are welcomed resources during this welcome back to school season. Blansfield said a few parents are still trying to recover from the economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"And inflation, and increased gas prices and all of these financial impacts that families are feeling," said Blansfield.
Some families in Tukwila are saving every penny they have after being burned out of their homes during an apartment fire that killed three people including a child in August 2021. It was just down the street from Akers’ classroom.
"So, you have right here at the beginning of the school year, families facing homelessness, trying to gather all their resources, get all the kids in a safe place and find a new place to live," said Akers.
Each school district said there was funding in the budget available to offer the free resources. The supplies will be provided to every student during the first week of class and will be replenished throughout the year.