Archive for the ‘Back to School’ Category

While speaking at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, President Barack Obama laid out key changes to No Child Left Behind.

“I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority,” Obama told the crowd. “Let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind.”

Some of the items include:

  • A fair accountability system that shares responsibility for improvement and rewards excellence, and that is based on high standards and is informed by sophisticated assessments that measure individual student growth;
  • A flexible system that empowers principals and teachers, and supports reform and innovation at the state and local level; and
  • A system focused on the schools and the students most at risk — that targets resources to persistently low-performing schools and ensures the most effective teachers serve students most in need.

According to the Department of Education, NCLB’s broken accountability system means that the overwhelming majority of schools will not meet NCLB’s goals and the students most at risk won’t get the help they need. 

During his speech, the President praised current efforts by Congressional leaders to replace NCLB and urged Congress to make these vital reforms before the next school year begins. 

Sources: Department of Education, Whitehouse.gov

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By Gene Schulist, School-Pak

Governor Pat Quinn (Illinois) recently called for dropping the state sales tax on back-to-school supplies for a 10-day period in August as a means of helping state residents during the current recessionary period.

Items would include school supplies like pencils (Of course companies would never think of buying these during the tax freeze.), binders (ditto), dry erase markers, (How will executives graph sales at their companies? Wait, they can buy these during the freeze.), and clothing purchases of $100 or more.

Of course, that means the state of Illinois will lose about $50 million dollars in sales tax revenue.

Since the state is facing a $12 billion dollar deficit this upcoming year, the new budge could be short an additional $50 million.

Now, if you’re a resident, what’s the smart thing to do? Would you go shopping for school supplies or clothes now? Or would you wait for the freeze? How crowded would the stores be during the tax freeze?

It was unclear whether the $100 in clothing costs was per item or if it was for a collective sale. Or whether there were limitations on the products, like purchasing socks and underwear.

The merchants, on the other hand, would end up with excess stock until that 10-day window opens up. Then they would be faced with overflow crowds and would have to provide more retail help. Since most states charge companies unemployment tax based on the number of workers, the store costs will go up.

And remember, with no one purchasing supplies or clothes outside that 10-day window, there would be little sales tax collected then either. So the 10-day window would lower store sales, increase employee costs and eliminate sales tax receipts.

The Illinois state legislature has until May 31 to approve the measure, and gratefully, cooler heads have prevailed and Quinn has backed off his proposal.

Maybe a place to start reducing the budget is to re-examine government employee benefits. When these start approaching 50-70 percent of the budget, states like Illinois will be facing bankruptcy.

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By: Rebecca Haden
A Plus Educational, Harrison, AR

 Back to School spending was down this year across the board, even compared with last year, when it seemed that consumers were as nervous about spending as they possibly could be.  An overall 7.7 percent decrease was expected – and consumers waited longer than usual to do their shopping, too, with more than half of U.S. families reporting that they hadn’t completed their back to school shopping on the weekend before classes began.

Electronics expenditures showed one of the highest drops – 4 percent — along with clothing and toiletries. Calculators were the exception, showing the only rise in sales. School supplies of the kind most of us sell, including books and pencils and general school gear, was down only about 1 percent.

Teachers still average about $500 a year in personal spending for their classrooms, national surveys say , but many of our teacher customers rely on school funds for their shopping with us, and the personal funds go towards  yard sale bargains, hand sanitizer, and even food.

Schools? According to the American Association of School Administrators, school budgets are up this year, but not enough to offset the rise in fuel and food prices, nor to balance the loss of sales tax revenue from the lowered spending of consumers. In terms of funds available for classrooms, a quarter of schools reported cutting their spending.

Overall, there was less money to go around. But there’s a ray of hope in the other big piece of news in the reports of this year’s school spending, which is that people are waiting. We still have shoppers out there.

How can we make sure to get our fair share of the remaining back to school funds? What we’ve done in the past may not do it.

  • We have to make sure that teachers see the value of what we’re offering them. We’d better make it clear that the bulletin board sets are educational, the books of reproducibles are jam-packed with usable stuff, and the storage options are better than Rubbermaid.
  • We also have to make it fun. You know which industries are still doing fine? Makeup, gourmet chocolates, fancy pens – people still feel like splurging, and if they can’t splurge on the big stuff, they’ll splurge on the little stuff. Have the coolest impulse items you can find at your cash wrap.
  • We have to build the base of loyalty for the rest of the year. When our regulars come in and spend less, we can get frustrated and think about cutting back on service, but that would be a mistake. As things improve, we want to make sure that we’re still the ones our customers want to shop with.

Truth to tell, we’ve had a good Back to School, and spending at the online store more than doubled since last year. We know we need to be grateful. We also know we need to keep our strategy in mind. Business pundits are saying that the winners as we come out of this recession will be, quite simply, the survivors.

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Though school bells in some areas of the country have already started to ring, most parents have a lot of shopping left to get kids ready for the classroom. According to NRF’s latest Back-to-School/College Consumer Intentions and Actions survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average American family had completed only 41.6 percent of their back-to-school shopping as of August 11. In addition, nearly one-third (30.5%) of families with school-aged children (K-12) haven’t even started their shopping. Those who have already begun their shopping said sales or coupons have influenced nearly half (47.8%) of purchases so far this season. And with everything taking a back seat to price this year, shoppers are keeping their eyes open for any and all special savings. According to the survey, 43.4 percent of back-to-school shoppers said coupons influenced them to shop at a particular store. Read More

Sources: The National Retail Federation and Retail Solutions Online

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By Jeff Pett, FleetWood Group, Holland, Michigan

I try to be upbeat most of the time.  A year ago we were having a record August following a record July leading into a record September.  Not too tough to be upbeat when that is happening.  This year all three of those months will be off from 2008.  At our peak earlier this summer, we had 140+ summer students working in the plant to get product out the door.  By early August, however, most were gone and we were looking to eliminate all overtime and encourage vacations by our full-time team.  That puts a little strain on being upbeat.

 Schools just didn’t have the money this summer, and worse than that, they didn’t know where the money they need to run their schools was coming from, or when they would see it.  If you’re selling paper, pencils, crayons, or other consumables it seems like there is hope that the orders will still come in, if later than normal.  After all, kids ARE going to be in school this fall… no students got laid off!  And they WILL need supplies.  In the educational furniture business there ARE schools talking about filling furniture needs by taking delivery during the Christmas holidays, so we remain hopeful of some major projects happening before the end of this calendar year.  But schools can delay that furniture upgrade to next summer if they have to.

 With all the talk of federal stimulus money becoming available for education this year, it would appear that the federal left hand doesn’t know what the far-left hand is doing (with apologies to Ronald Reagan who once made that quip about the right hand).  Those of us who thought the stimulus money might help education this year certainly missed the boat.  Do the feds understand that school budgets generally do NOT follow the federal fiscal year?  Do they understand that school boards need to have assurance of funds by the spring of the year in order to set the machinery in motion to make major purchases for the new school year in June and July?  I think most state governments get that, but it appears the feds are completely detached from the real school world.  Which begs the question: where is that stimulus money going, anyway?

 Back in February, it took only 23 days for Congress to push through the $787 billion stimulus package, supposedly with stipulations in the bill to assure “rapid” distribution.  As of August 7th only $77.1 billion, or 9.8%, had been distributed.  To be fair, $200 billion (25.4%) has been approved for distribution, but spending, even by the federal government, takes time.  If you want to keep track of the projects targeted for stimulus spending you can go to www.recovery.gov and see a clickable map of the US showing where they are and how much money will be spent.  Having done a little “click-a-tour” of my own, I can tell you in advance you will not find education related projects.  You will see a heavy concentration of projects around Washington DC and Virginia… no big surprise.  In addition, the overwhelming majority of them are construction projects, most in government facilities, military bases or national parks.  Deep down inside we probably all know that when the federal government spends a lot of money fast, some of it ends up going to places it should not, so slower is probably better.  It’s just that for all the talk of including education we just aren’t seeing any benefit yet.

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By Rebecca Haden

A Plus Educational, Harrison, Arkansas

Back to School season is upon us. After a tough year and a nervous year-end, teachers are getting back into their classrooms. If they’re going to buy, now’s the time they’ll do it.

Retailers have stores fully stocked and staffed, and now’s the time for us all to hang around waiting for the annual onslaught. Don’t waste the time between customers (if there still is some of that at your shop). Get some synergy going between your website and your store, for maximum results on both sides.

On your website…

  • Make sure your address, hours, contact information and directions are up to date. It’s easy to overlook these updates, but some of your customers are once-a-year shoppers. If they can’t find your building, or can’t reach you, they’ll go elsewhere.
  • Create a sense of urgency. A sale, the new stuff, essentials like planbooks or Mavalus Tape going fast – these are messages that can lure the teachers off their decks and into your store. Update your blog, your banners, or your featured items now.
  • Rev up your e-mail list. This is the perfect time to invite your web visitors to add their names to your electronic newsletter list. Then do a small emailing to identify any bad e-mail addresses before you roll out your Back to School newsletter. 

In your store…

  • Train your staff to say, “Have you been to our website?” as they check customers out.  It takes no extra time, and can get customers in the habit of shopping online between visits to your store. Even those who don’t go may feel you’re a cool up-to-date store just because they know you have a website.
  • Print your web address (and your Twitter, Facebook, or other social media handles, too) on your receipts. Make simple bookmarks that say “Bookmark us! www.APlusEducational.com” with your web address.
  • Answer complaints that you’re out of that favorite bulletin board set (or – the one I hate – that your borders look “picked over”) by sending the complainers online.  Better yet, pull up your catalog if there’s a computer handy and help them place the order right then and there.  You can’t please everyone, but this can really help customers feel that you’re taking care of them.

With your physical store and your website supporting each other, you win all around.

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

What a difference a couple of months can make. Actually, just a couple of weeks. Is everyone in the educational supply/manufacturing community feeling the same June slow down that we are? Our shipments are actually up to last year same quarter, and through May our incoming orders were holding their own with no major year-over-year aberrations. However, this June has been a pretty unusual month for us.

Historically June is by far our biggest month of the year for incoming orders. And each June of the past three years has been better than the previous one. This June we are on track to see the lowest dollar amount for incoming orders of the past four. But, interestingly, we have been busier than normal this month quoting new work. So what’s up?!

I spent most of the past couple of weeks on the road in different regions of the country visiting schools and our dealers. What I am hearing is echoed by my sales team in all parts of the country. And that is that two primary things seem to be making a big difference THIS year as opposed to any previous year anyone can remember:

1. The economy is bad most everywhere (no big news there); and

2. Schools are VERY uncertain about where their funds are coming from for next year.

It seems that budgets for the new fiscal year, for many schools starting on July 1, are more in doubt this year than most due to the economy in general and their state funding in particular. The prospect of federal money being available cuts two ways: it is good to know the feds may help supply much needed funding, but the limitations, strings, and paperwork are very daunting to many school administrators and school boards. The result is that many school administrators have a white-knuckled grip on money with limited spending until budgets are fully approved and direction for school district spending has been set.

Will we see an overall down year in educational sales, or are we going to see a late rush of orders in July and August that get our sales volume back up but that create their own set of challenges? I am sure you, like me, are hoping for the latter.

What are you hearing?


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