This year’s back-to-school sales tax holiday kicks off Friday and continues through Sunday, even as many parents face an uncertain future on how their children’s upcoming school year will look.
Pencils, notebooks and backpacks up to $15 are covered in the sales tax holiday, but with the potential for distance learning, reopening delays or even potential school closures, preparing for the 2020 school year is more complicated than ever.
“Some students might not start off with a backpack because they’re not going to be leaving the house and that’s OK, but we have some students who will need a book bag,” said Dr. Danielle Thomas, vice president of education for the Florida PTA.
But many items on the list that could be helpful whether your child returns to the classroom or ends up learning from home.
“Writing utensils, the paper, the notebooks -- those types of things that they will probably need no matter what,” Thomas said.
Computers and accessories like webcams will be needed for anyone continuing with distance learning and they are also exempt from taxation this weekend.
“It’s up to $1,000 on a computer purchase,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “So we’re happy with that, especially at a time when you’re going to have a lot of people opting for virtual learning.”
Best Buy and Walmart have taken notice, running online ads for the state’s tax-holiday period bannered over ads for computer discounts.
“The reality is we know it’s going to look and feel different for parents, teachers and students alike,” said Stephen Carter, director of digital strategy for Walmart. “What we’re trying to offer in addition to our normal assortment, providing some basics and technology that can support people that have to do a blended education setting or completely virtual, so we’ve supplemented things like electronics, laptops and that sort of thing. We’ve also provided a lot in terms of services -- Sylvan learning, PBS Kids -- that we’re excited about.”
Also exempt this weekend are clothing items under $60. And, for the first time ever, face masks are also on the tax-free list.
At Academy Sports in Jacksonville, Andrew Lovingood, the store director, said they’re stocked up for the sales tax holiday rush.
“Footwear will be a big draw here,” he said. We have a wide variety of footwear and apparel.”
If you don’t feel safe going into a crowded store, remember the tax exemption also applies to items purchased online.
Families expected to save millions
Even though this year’s tax-free holiday is two days shorter than last year’s, the Retail Federation anticipates Floridians will still save around $40 million due to the expected demand for high-priced technology items.
According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, families plan on spending roughly $789 per family to get ready for the fall. That’s up more than $92 from last year. The survey found 63% of K-12 families plan to buy a computer or other electronics.
Not everyone, however, is so enthusiastic about the holiday.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, considers sales tax holidays “outdated gimmicks” that “provide dubious and poorly targeted benefits.”
Dylan Grundman, the institute’s senior state policy analyst, said holidays reduce revenue for state and local priorities like schools and health care and typically are more of a benefit to more affluent individuals.
“Wealthier taxpayers are often best positioned to benefit from the holidays since they have more flexibility to shift the timing of their purchases to take advantage of the tax break, an option that isn’t available for families living paycheck to paycheck,” Grundman said in a statement.
With the pandemic, wealthier taxpayers are also more likely to be able to shop online, setting up orders for curbside and home delivery.
“Lower-income households, on the other hand, may lack these conveniences and be forced to choose between keeping their families safe or going into a crowded store during peak hours to take advantage of the discount,” Grundman wrote.
According to the Florida Department of Revenue, no formal complaints of tax violations were reported during Florida’s Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday in 2018 or 2019.
The department said businesses that sell a small number of the items qualifying for the Back to School Sales Tax Holiday may opt out of participating in the holiday. These businesses must have less than 5% of their gross sales during calendar year 2019 be from sales of items that would be exempt if they were sold during the 2020 sales tax holiday. They had until Aug. 1, 2020 to notify the Department of Revenue in writing and post a notice that they were opting out of the sales tax holiday in a conspicuous place at the business location.
A consumer who is charged tax for items that qualify for exemption from a business that has not posted an opt-out notice can report the business to the department using the following contact information. Consumers reporting an alleged tax violation should provide information about the business, the type of violation, and the date the violation occurred.
Phone: (850) 717-6994
FAX: (850) 487-0969, Attention: Tax Violations
US Postal Mail:
Florida Department of Revenue
General Tax Administration
Tax Violations and Rewards
PO Box 6417
Tallahassee, FL 32314-6417
News Service of Florida contributed to this report.