BACK TO SCHOOL 2021 | Click to scroll down for more
In preparation for a more conventional school year, families will once again rummage through shelves of tax-free supplies for the classroom.
Florida’s back-to-school tax holiday begins Saturday. To parents’ delight, legislation passed in the spring extended the annual affair from three to 10 days, through Aug. 9.
Retailers will suspend taxes on clothing, footwear and backpacks costing $60 or less; school supplies costing $15 or less; and the first $1,000 of the sales tax price for personal computers or personal computer accessories.
That means monitors, printers and keyboards are on the list. Smartphones and game consoles are not. (See the full list of tax-exempt items at floridarevenue.com/backtoschool)
Personal protective products — masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning products — were sold tax-free during the 2020 holiday, when COVID-19 case numbers were much higher. But the Florida Department of Revenue excluded those pandemic-specific items this year, while still covering paint, dust and protective athletic masks.
“This last year has been quite a challenge for Florida families as they make decisions about how best to educate their children,” Senate president Wilton Simpson said in a statement. “This legislation provides tax relief for families purchasing supplies for the new school year, which will be great help for those returning to in-person learning.”
At 341 Florida Walmart stores, Crayola marker packs and spiral-bound planners from Pen+Gear — both included in the retailer’s ultimate school supply roundup — will sell for just the sticker price. Students searching for folders and desk organizers at Target are also in luck. Staples upped the offer, with a 10 percent discount on select supplies already exempt from sales tax, according to spokesperson Meghan McCarrick.
The benefits apply to local businesses all the same.
Alsace Walentine, owner of Tombolo Books in downtown St. Petersburg, will push multicolor composition notebooks, pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners in those 10 days. Branded bookstore T-shirts, decorated with Tombolo’s signature Black skimmer, technically count as a back-to-school purchase, too.
“I don’t know how much kids use pencils anymore,” Walentine said. “But whatever COVID relief people can get, the better.”
Textbooks and novels remain in the taxable category.
The Paper Seahorse, a Tampa stationery store, draws customers’ attention with pencils from Blackwing, said owner Tona Bell. The semi-hexagonal Japanese writing utensils sell alongside washi tape, Kaweco fountain pens, leather-bound Traveler’s Company notebooks and MD paper, crafted from broad-leaved trees and filtered river water.
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Families can invest in additional paper products — notebook filler, construction paper and legal pads — at Florida stores. Sales of lunch boxes, scissors, glue, staplers, compasses and calculators also reap the rewards of the holiday.
A few unusual items made the cut again. Think handkerchiefs, goggles, key chains and diving suits — all temporarily available without sales tax.
Shoes are a more practical addition, Little Feet Shoes employee Robin Goneia said.
The family-owned children’s shoe store in Wesley Chapel sells hundreds of sneakers and Mary Janes every back-to-school season. In the late summer months, sizes for 11- and 12-year-olds fly off the shelves.
Co-owner Yonique Waller said Little Feet also sells lightweight autism and sensory-friendly shoes, pairs for children with orthotics and wider styles “for those extra loveable feet.”
Brands like Stride Rite, Saucony and Tsukihoshi are especially popular near the first day of school. And apparel, like socks, rain coats and hair bows, tack onto the Little Feet tax-free inventory.
Waller even offers personalized fitting for each miniature shopper.
“So many different kids are going back to the classroom soon,” she said. “We try to think of all of them. That’s why we offer styles and sizes for families looking for a durable pair of sneakers and others raising children with special needs. Every kid needs those essentials for the year.”
More back-to-school coverage
HOW WE’RE FEELING: Tampa Bay parents and kids talk about the school year ahead.
MEET THE PRINCIPALS: Many area schools will start the year with new leaders.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tampa Bay’s four public school districts at a glance.