From pencils to protractors

Published 11:40 pm Friday, July 29, 2011

Ann-René Challenger shops at the downtown Walmart Friday for school supplies for her sons, who are entering the sixth and eighth grades at Forest Glen Middle School. Next weekend, from Aug. 5 to 7, school supplies, clothing and footwear will be tax-free.

Colored pencils, loose-leaf paper, scissors and other school supplies can add up at the register, especially when you’re buying for more than one student.

But next weekend, Virginians will get a back-to-school tax-break. From Aug. 5 to 7, customers won’t pay sales tax on certain back-to-school items.

Exempt items include school supplies, such as pens, binders and notebooks, that cost $20 or less for each item. Also, most clothing and footwear is tax-exempt if each article is $100 or less.

Email newsletter signup

This is the sixth back-to-school tax-free weekend, and the tax department estimates Virginians will save $4.3 million in sales tax during the event.

Joel Davison, public relations director for the Virginia Department of Taxation, said the back-to-school tax-free holiday is the most popular of the three tax-free events during the year.

“That’s what people want to hear — tax-free,” he said.

He said he thinks the tax-exempt items for back-to-school are more common than the items offered during the hurricane preparedness and energy efficient tax-free occasions.

“This is the most universal by far because it’s school supplies,” he said. “This is a great thing for families with kids going back to school.”

Davison added the back-to-school break is something everyone can enjoy because many of the items on the tax-free list are not exclusively used for preparing for school.

“They call it back to school, but it’s not really,” he said.

In addition to the break on sales tax, next weekend also marks one of the only times of year that retailers can offer to pay sales tax themselves on items that are not on the tax-free list.

Davison said the tax-free weekend is great for families, especially those with several school-aged children.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but these days every little bit can help, especially for families,” he said.

For more information and to view a full list of tax-exempt clothing, visit A list of the tax-free school supplies is below.

  • Binder pockets
  • Binders
  • Blackboard chalk
  • Book bags
  • Calculators
  • Cellophane tape
  • Clay and glazes
  • Compasses
  • Composition books
  • Crayons
  • Dictionaries, thesauruses and other reference books
  • Dividers
  • Erasers (including dry erase marker erasers and dry erase marker cleaning solution)
  • Folders: expandable, pocket, plastic, and manila
  • Glue, paste and paste sticks
  • Highlighters
  • Index card boxes
  • Index cards
  • Legal pads
  • Lunch boxes
  • Markers (including dry erase markers and dry erase marker kits)
  • Musical instruments, musical instrument accessories, and replacement items for musical instruments
  • Notebooks
  • Paintbrushes for artwork
  • Paints (acrylic, tempera, and oil)
  • Paper: loose leaf ruled notebook paper, copy paper, graph paper, tracing paper, manila paper, colored paper, poster board and construction paper
  • Pencil boxes and other school supply boxes
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Pencils and pens
  • Protractors
  • Reference maps and globes
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • Sheet music
  • Sketch and drawing pads
  • Textbooks
  • Watercolors
  • Workbooks
  • Writing tablets