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Back-to-school shoppers will save more on tax-free weekend, thanks to new Missouri law

 An illustration of pencils, erasers and other school supplies alongside dollar bills and coins.
Lindsey Balbierz for NPR
Students and teachers say even 5% more in savings can make a difference when deciding what supplies they can buy during tax-free weekend.

Missourians shopping for school supplies, clothes and computers during the state's tax-free weekend Aug. 4-6 can save up to 5% more than in previous years.

A 2021 Missouri law taking effect this year prevents all cities, counties and special tax districts from charging local sales taxes during the back-to-school weekend.

Tax holiday shoppers have been exempt from the state sales tax of 4.225% since 2004, but many municipalities still charged local sales taxes. With local sales taxes eliminated, this year, shoppers will save up to 9%.

“Even though it sounds like it could be like a minimal portion of tax, on tax-free weekend you'll really notice that discount if you apply it to school supplies,” said Omoye Ehimare, a recent Marquette High School graduate who will start college at the University of Southern California this fall.

Ehimare said she tries to cut costs where she can, and discounts are important in deciding what school and dorm supplies she will buy for college.

“Many of those materials stack up, the cost stacks up, and the tax will stack up,” she said.

Clothing and footwear that cost $100 or less and standard school supplies such as backpacks, writing utensils and notebooks costing up to $50 per purchase are exempt from sales taxes, with some exceptions. Most personal computers and computer accessories that are less than $1,500 also are exempt.

Robert Gutzler, a social studies teacher at Compton-Drew ILC Middle School, said he uses the discount to buy as many supplies as he can.

“I'm thinking about that while I'm out there buying stuff for my classroom,” he said. “That's going to allow me to spend just a little bit more — or maybe a lot more.”

Since starting as a teacher in 1994, Gutzler said, he’s spent hundreds of dollars out of pocket each year.

“I'll grab some supplies because there [are] always kids that are in need of notebooks. Or you run out of paper or pencils,” he said. “You would think [those] would be staples of an educational community. But that's not always true.”

Gutzler said the school rarely reimburses him for his expenses, and he will often ask parents to purchase paper and other essentials for the classroom.

He worries the tax holiday could deprive public schools like Compton-Drew of money they need to operate but said the weekend is still crucial to low-income families.

“I know a lot of parents that wait until tax-free weekend to buy their school uniforms … because of the simple fact that they're tax free," he said. “In some instances it may not be a lot, but every little bit helps.”

Lilley Halloran was a Summer '23 News Intern at St. Louis Public Radio. She is studying Journalism and Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri.