Tax Free School Shopping

Does your state offer a tax-free weekend? Find out here

Several years ago, some states started to implement a tax-free shopping weekend for school supplies. Everything from paper to clothing, backpacks to computers and crayons to protractors may be tax free, depending on where you live. This can result in a HUGE savings, especially if you are in college, supporting multiple school-aged children or even if you run an office. It can be a great time to stock up on necessities that you will need throughout the entire year, not just the first semester.

In 2015, there were 18 states that had a tax-free shopping weekend. This year, the following 16 states are participating in the event. Keep in mind that not every state that participated in previous years will be participating again this year.

Alabama Tax Free Weekend – August 5-7, 2016

Arkansas Tax Free Weekend – August 6-7, 2016

Connecticut Tax Free Weekend – August 14-20, 2016

Florida Tax Free Weekend – August 5-7, 2016

Georgia Tax Free Weekend – July 29-31, 2016

Iowa Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Louisiana Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Maryland Tax Free Weekend, August 7-13, 2016

Mississippi Tax Free Weekend, July 29-31, 2016

Missouri Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

New Mexico Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Oklahoma Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

South Carolina Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Tennessee Tax Free Weekend, July 29-31, 2016

Texas Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Virginia Tax Free Weekend, August 5-7, 2016

Some restrictions apply depending on where you live. Many states limit clothing up to $100 and school supplies up to $100, and some states have computer limitations as well. To get an idea of what is included in your own state’s tax-free weekend and how much you can save, click here. Check with your local retailers to see if you can save even more with deals and coupons available. Some may still accept these during tax free weekend.

If you are a tax free weekend shopper veteran, you may have even more inside know-how to share. Any tips or tricks to share for the novices? Which items do you try to buy tax free and which ones do you recommend waiting for the sale ads? It is important to note that some sales will save you much more money in the long run than tax free weekend, so make your spending choices carefully.

Do you have any great school supply saving tips to share? Comment down below to help other academics, parents and office aficionados save money.


Photo courtesy of sarajean. If you want "Poo Paper" courtesy of an elephant, you may not be able to find it while you shop during tax free weekend...

Homeschool to annoy a liberal

Is this seriously a methodology that people consider?

I was looking for a homeschooling bumper sticker to add to the enormous collection on the back of my car—maybe something about the world being our classroom, or an Einstein quote, or something—when I ran across one that says, “Homeschool to annoy a liberal.”


As a liberal homeschooler, I can only snort at this. I really do know plenty of conservatives who homeschool. In fact, in one of my local groups, the majority of the members are conservatives—but I have never seen any of them try to annoy a liberal.

On the other hand, another group that I locally belong to—a much larger one—is made up of mostly liberals. We have humanists and hippies and democratic unschoolers. We have Buddhists and pagans and people from all walks of life. In the third local group we belong to, perhaps the largest of all, there is such a wide variety of people from every political, religious, and cultural spectrum that I couldn’t even begin to classify.

So I don’t know how you’re going to annoy a liberal with your homeschooling when plenty of us are already doing it. So-rry! And I’d really appreciate it if such stereotypical sentiments would stop being reflected on bumper stickers, or anywhere, in the first place. We homeschoolers don’t take kindly to stereotypes…

The Southwood shuffle

A school memoir.

The hall above bisects the middle of the Southwood Early Childhood Center in Bloomington, MN. Once it was a grade school. In between that and the building's current usage it was once split amongst three groups: a Montessori school, a daycare center and a pilot special educational program named Family Focus. Toward the end of my time in that pilot program however, the Montessori school had moved a few blocks to the north, and I have no idea where the daycare center moved to.  After that, Family Focus had the run of the place until the program was terminated at a date I’ve yet to uncover.

I can still recall the daily routine instilled into students enrolled at Family Focus. A routine that both began and ended inside the open door you see on the left hand side of the photo.

On days without special all-school events scheduled, the routine would go like this: Upon our arrival we would gather in the gym, where our various classes got sorted together by a teacher or their assistant. Our first duty of the day as a class would be forming in a line and marching off to our classroom.  

Being at the front of the line was an honor that either was awarded by merit or one rotated amongst the class per school day; my memory fails me as to which method would see me at times lead the class on in feeling a bit of pride in spite of my dislike of having to be there so far from my home in Minnetonka, MN.

Once at class, a fairly normal school day of the kind you could find in regular schools would take place with subjects like math and all that kind of jazz covered, along with breaks for playtime and lunch.   

The most unique deviation from a “normal” school day for us would be seeing a counselor. This took us out of the classroom and back to the hall by the gym you see here. The counselor’s offices were located down the hall and to the right.  

My counselor was named Thomas Cook. Tom Cook meant well but did not have a clue as to what made me tick and why I had such a hard time in school and doing things like taking part in mass group activities like watching movies, speakers, and so on. I hate to say it, but he viewed me as a kid who needed to conform in order to get by in the world and did his best to achieve his goal. He did not come close to achieving it, because while I gave him respect, I also did not go along with his various schemes. I liked myself just the way I was! Our sessions would last for about a half an hour or so, and then back to class I went.

At the end of the day we would march out of class back to the gym and break up prior to boarding a bus (or in my case, a van) for home. Ringing down the curtain on yet another day doing what I hereby dub the Southwood Shuffle.  

Permission denied!

A school memoir

During my time spent in the pilot program named “Family Focus” based at Southwood Elementary in Bloomington, MN, back in the 1980s, they sometimes would make an announcement right in the middle of the school day that would spin things 180 degrees as to how the rest of the day would go before we would assemble in the gym prior to going home.

One such incident occurred on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.   My class was humming along when all of a sudden our teacher, Mrs. Baileyan, made an announcement: later in the day we had to go to a MLK-related program at nearby Westwood Elementary School.

At that, an emotion ripped through me from head to toe that fairly screamed oh no! I’ve got to get out of this one.

Being in school had exacerbated an intense dislike of having to sit in an audience I had developed after going to see Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird at a now-gone movie theater located in the vicinity of Southdale  Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota. 

The waves of laughter that swept through the theater as I tried to concentrate on a big screen version of one of my most favorite kiddie TV shows tore me out of the movie so much it left me an extremely unhappy camper. Alas, it was a situation I ran into all too often in school at various events or movie screenings about things I could have cared less about, and by now I had had it with such stuff.

During a break I got up my nerve and walked up went to where Mrs. Baileyan sat at her desk with an impassive look on her face. Her expression did not change as I meekly requested to sit out the MLK Day event. “I’ll think about it,” she said, a dismissive hint in her voice.

Grasping at even this tiny straw, my apprehension momentarily abated. But when departure time neared and I went and asked her about my request, I found out it had been denied! She soon found out it was folly to have done so.

After going to Westwood by carpool (not by bus, for some reason), I dutifully filed into the vast school gymnasium where a white male member of the school staff introduced a black entertainer all dressed in black complete with a cape and a floppy brim hat.  

The name of the entertainer flew over my head because the staff member talked like he was on fast-forward. The entertainer slowly broke into song right after Mr. Fast Forward was done speaking. I could not make out his words all that clearly because he sang in a low tone that got lost towards the back of the gym, where I sat in tense anticipation of an explosion of loud noise.  

It came a millisecond after the entertainer began singing in the form of a loud laugh from the kids which swept from front to back like a fierce gust of wind.   The noise killed any hope I had of following along with the entertainer, and sent me into a sensory overload that made me slam my face into my hands and scream with tears.

As a result, I first got me sent to a nearby equipment storage closet, where I ran into an old gym teacher from Southwood who recognized me and treated me with kindness. Then I got to wait in the hall outside until the program was over. Mrs. Bailyan would have been better advised to let me stay at Southwood so the MLK program could have gone off without a hitch.


The forbidden hill at Excelsior Elementary

A school memoir.

When I went to Excelsior Elementary School, they did not see eye-to-eye with me nor I them. Heck, I was only, what, five or six years old when I got switched to there from Deephaven Elementary School as the Minnetonka School District sought to make something of me as a student.

During my stint at Excelsior, half of my day was spent in a regular class, half in a special education class, while lunch and recess still divided my mornings from my afternoons just like for the rest of the kids.

There is a hill with a modest-sized slope on the northeast side of the school closest to the playground. It is pictured above. Today it has a concrete retaining wall with a mural depicting happy or otherwise content students. The mural (which did not exist during my stint) is ironic in the extreme given that I once got caught up in something on that hill which did not leave me as happy a camper as those kids on the mural.

Despite the slope being so tiny as to be of little consequence to a grown-up, it was deemed dangerous for us kids. Maybe it was because for fear of students getting into trouble over at the TCF Bank next door.  But temptation came calling one day toward the end of our outdoor playtime when I spotted several boys on that forbidden slope. Despite the warnings I had heard, curiosity compelled me to join in and I arrived just in time to get busted with them by one of the school staff.

Our punishment was soon handed down: we had to sit quietly with our heads resting on the tables in the lunch room like we were so many hard cases in a prison. Unfortunately for me, I had landed myself in a jam with just about every cut-up in the place.  

Not only did they not sit quietly, they laughed and giggled amongst themselves as they did things like try to eat gum stuck to the bottom of the tables as they collectively thumbed their noses at the lady trying to keep order in the room as the school dispensed with capital punishment.

I did not join in the fun. I was so overwhelmed by it all I just sat there with my head down and let the Cool Hand Luke Jr.’s do their stuff.  Wishing all the while they would just shut up as their antics and noises were not helping my already crushed morale any. Happy to relate, mom read Excelsior Elementary the riot act when she heard about what they had done to me and took me out of there.  

Matt the tattle tale

A school memoir

I used to look up to Matt Fox, a kid who was in the same special education program named “Family Focus” that I was in back in the 1980s. I can’t remember why I did. Maybe it was because he seemed like a cool kid to me, especially when he was in my class. Looking back, I cannot help but wonder if I did not misplace my admiration because of a certain thing he did to me one day.


One day each week towards the end of my time at Family Focus, my class had to march over to another classroom where special activities took place, one of these being playing a game.  For those it was either a choice of The Ungame or (if memory serves me right) Uno.  I was not a big fan of the former in those days.  I found the questions I might have to answer to be too probing and, in turn, putting me at risk of having to reveal embarrassing personal details.   With the inevitable outcome of me dreading each time they would march my class down the hall to the classroom they held special activities in like playing that game.    Frequently while struggling across the game with my more enthusiastic classmates, I would break down in tears.   

As I have written before about this special ed program, displays of emotion like bursting into tears was apt to bring punishments down on my shoulders.

Each game day we would be asked what we wanted to play.   When everybody else but me once voted on The Ungame, tears came.   Afterward, the lady in charge asked me what my tears were about.   “I was crying for joy,” I replied in an attempt to brazen it out thanks to having learned the phrase from an episode of “The Pound Puppies” cartoon series.

Then Matt gave me a look that said you’re lying! and blabbed to the lady that I had not been crying for joy but because I was upset.   I got a “reminder” for that from the lady, the first of their three-tiered disciplinary steps there with the other two being a “check mark” followed by the dreaded “time out.”   However, all I harvested from my tears the day Matt tattled on me was that “reminder.”  

I kept looking up to Matt in spite of that.   I even gave him a drawing the day he left the program.   

Now, however, I think my admiration was misplaced.  Because while Matt was cool, he also sucked-up to the adults in charge by being a goody two-shoes and a tattle tale worthy of the award pictured above.     



The legalized child abuse in our schools

Concerning time outs, time out rooms and their ilk

Recently on the “Anomalies” Klat blog I posted an article entitled “To the time out room,” a succinct reminiscence of a place once located inside Southwood Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota when it played host to a pilot program named Family Focus in the 1980s.   Targeted at special needs students, these kinds of school rooms have been defended in some circles as providing a means to protect staff and students. It is not just my opinion but bitter personal experience that leads me to believe they must be banned instead.


As I noted in my post to “Anomalies,” Family Focus had a four-step disciplinary program.   If you crossed the line in class, you got a “reminder;” if you crossed it a second time you got a “check mark;” if you crossed it a third time, you got stuck into a cubbyhole equipped with a hard plastic chair where a timer was placed before you set for either three or five minutes. If you crossed the line after that treatment,  it was off to the “time out room.”

The “time out room” was located in a converted classroom located at the head of the T-shaped hallway system in the building.   It was filled with more cubbyholes equipped with hard plastic chairs as well as their heaviest artillery: two cubbyholes with narrow rectangular windows which you would get locked into for the same amount of time as in the cubbyholes.

Did I ever wind up in one of those cubbyholes or booths because my behavior threatened myself or others?  No!  Not once was I banging my head on my desk, trying to cut myself, or seeking to attack somebody.  

In my “Anomalies” post I wrote that I got into trouble because I had (and still have) a hard time with strict rules and was in general rebellious over having to be at Family Focus, but that is a generalization. The nitty gritty facts as to why I would get into trouble stemmed from frequent outburst of crying when I was frustrated, scared, or just plain overloaded. I got no sympathy, even from my counselor, one Thomas Cook. All they wanted me to do was shut up and conform, and whenever I wouldn’t, the vicious cycle of reminder, check mark, time out, and getting hauled off down the hall would revolve again and again.   

The memories that linger aren’t pleasant. The most unpleasant of the bunch is the day that I stood before a man seated at the desk by the time out room door. He had curly black hair and wore dress pants, a white shirt, and a black tie. I still remember with extreme distaste how he looked at me with stern eyes and asked an equally stern voice “Are you ready to go to the film festival?” To which I replied in a trembling voice “What?” as I recoiled inwardly at the very thought of having to attend yet another school activity with the power to send me into sensory overload thanks to the kids and adults almost always whooping with laughter at whatever flick was playing and tearing the heck out of my concentration in the process. My memory is dim, but I do believe his words set off a wild round of crying and agitation from me, though I can’t remember if I was punished or got dragged to the classroom showing the movie.  

At best that man had looked at me like I was some kind of troublemaker, or a wild animal at worst. Regardless, wherever he is now … well, I don’t send him my regards because I think he ought to be ashamed of the way he treated me, because I am not a wild animal but a human being!

Some of my memories from when they would shove me into one of the booths are downright surreal. I remember once defacing the wall of one of those with my spit because I had nothing else to do as I resisted whatever they were forcing on me that day; another time I actually slept in that hellish contraption until a boy locked up in the other booth began calling my name. The staff quickly quashed our attempts at conversation like we were prisoners in a cell block.  

All the times I got hauled down the hall to that room severely taxed me both emotionally and physically. While the punishments they meted out did not break me because I am stubborn to the core of my very being, the sensation of being helplessly hauled off by force despite my desperate attempts to break the grip of the teacher’s assistant hauling me down there ultimately inflicted emotional harm. In fact that experience, coupled with the fact that my father as an abusive bully, gave rise to two great emotions within as I grew older: a deep sense of being unable to protect myself from anyone or anything, and a deep sense of mistrust in other people which helped stunt friendships.    

Call them what you will: “seclusion room,” “time out room,” whatever. Based upon my own experience and what I have read of others, I believe they must be banned from all schools both public and private. They are little better than what you would find in jail, or a POW camp, and contribute nothing to the growth and development of our children because they are a legal form of child abuse.



Sam and Andre make a break for it!

The tale of a less than successful school day "escape attempt."

The street bordered by a sidewalk on the foreground is Terracewood Drive; Southwood Elementary is in the background. One day on that sidewalk a kid whose name I can’t remember (so let’s call him Sam) made a break and inspired another kid named Andre to join him. Here is the story.

You could see Terracewood Drive from my classroom, which was located in the wing closest to the entrance/exit you see here which lets out onto the playground. One fine day we were going about our daily routine when my teacher Mrs. Devine and her assistant Heidi began talking excitedly to one another. The exact words I can’t remember, but the gist went something like:

Heidi: “Look, that’s Sam!  What’s he doing up there?” 

Devine: “He’s running away.”

As Devine and Heidi debated what to do, I took a look myself. Sure enough, there was Sam making a break for it up on that sidewalk. Headed east to heaven knows where.  I did not know Sam well at all, so I can give no reason why he was making a break for it unless he was having a very bad day.

I do know something about the kid in my class who suddenly said in a cheeky tone “Bye” and tore out of my classroom to join Sam, though.

His name was Andre.   A wild kid known for antics like taking his shirt and coat off and dancing around on a cold winter’s day as we all went to board our transport home, dismissively calling locations on a map “garbage” to the hilarity of his classmates (and irritation of his teachers) or giving Heidi “the bird” from the window of his school bus before it left one day.  It’s no surprise he wound up on the pilot program named “Family Focus,” which was run out of Southwood back then, nor is it a surprise that he decided to join Sam in making a break for it.     

Maybe I should join him, I thought as Andre vanished out the classroom door bound for the east exit only a dozen or so steps away. But they will probably catch me, I glumly concluded.  So I dutifully stood there as Heidi conferred with another assistant in the hall and Devine kept an eye on the rest of her flock. Unless my memory is completely off kilter, Heidi and the assistant out in the hall (another lady) even debated calling the police!  

My memory is dim, but I think both Andre and Sam got nabbed sooner rather than later and got in a heap of trouble. And that was the end of that.

The spire of Westwood

A random memory from school days past.

When I wound up in a special pilot program known as Family Focus back in the late 1980s, I had to go to Southwood Elementary school in Bloomington, Minnesota.   But unlike the school I had just come from –Excelsior Elementary in Excelsior, Minnesota- Southwood did not have its own school library.   The result was that we had to be bused to much bigger nearby Westwood Elementary and use their library. 

Westwood stands near the built-up intersection of Old Shakopee Road and France Avenue.   Our bus would roll up the latter street and then swing down a side street and up to the main entrance, where we would disembark and embark.

One sight that became firmly affixed in my memory was the tall chimney Westwood boasted.   It rose like a landmark each time the school came into view as the bus hummed up France. I was not a happy camper in those days about being so far from home in a strange pilot program filled up with kids who did not fit into the cogs of public education like so many of our peers, and because of that mood that chimney soon took on a melancholy appearance as it frowned down on the school like a monolithic statue raised to celebrate the glories of public education.   It frowned down on me on all those bad days and yes, the rare good one as my life’s path intersected with Westwood on a regular basis.  

Then one day I was freed from that pilot program and now only see that chimney on rare occasions such as the day I snapped its picture for future use in an article about it.  A chimney I now hereby dub “the spire of Westwood.”  It seems to fit.

Fork over your money!

School’s back in session…

Many homeschooling parents go back and forth between public and private education, trying out every option until they find the best possible education for their children. I know homeschoolers that go to school part-time for certain subjects; I even know some who send some kids to school while others remain at home. Every child is different, so it makes sense that every child should have his or her individual learning path.

The families who have gone to public school this fall are reporting some really disturbing stories about how much school costs. Although I remember the majority of last year’s property taxes going to our public school—which we don’t use—families are still being asked to send in money for things every single week! Where is that tax money going to?

I’m not protesting paying teachers, but I sure would like to know why our public  school friends have to send in $6 for a class t-shirt, $10 for supplies, and fifty cents every few days for popcorn, popsicles, and other treats. It’s only been in session for two weeks and one family has already spent $50! Many of these families are on limited incomes and cannot afford this constant call for spending—and now they’re being given fundraising programs to hand out and raise money for the school, the first of many for the year. None of these things have to do with learning.One family didn’t have change for “Popcorn Day,” apparently a product of the PTA, and the child was very upset. The teacher wrote home a note chastising the mother, even though the activity was supposedly “optional.” Why can’t the PTA fundraise if they want money and not let the kids suffer for it? Fifty cents may not be a lot to one family, but to another, it may be the last scrounged up change for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread.

We homeschool for pretty much free. We only spend money on things that we need for living—food, regular activities, bills, and such—and once in a while we splurge on a class. My daughter has some classes, but they are all free through our co-op. I don’t understand where all these costs are coming from. Professional school photos? Take them yourself! We have homeschool moms who take them for half the price as well. Class t-shirts? Are those really necessary? And why have these class snacks and projects if they are so expensive—why not just let them go play in the dirt and use sticks, rocks, and leaves, which is not only more natural, but free? (These are primary and elementary grades, mind you.)

Perhaps teachers should be getting more discretionary funds for their classrooms and costs could be cut elsewhere—such as administrative costs…