Back-to-schoool needs show a wide variety of price differences

Costa Rican parents are going to drop from 62,169 to 76,813 colons to send each of their children to public school Feb. 8.

That is the minimal estimate by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio. The differences depend on the grade level of the child. The amount is from $122.23 to $152.26 at the current rate of exchange.

The ministry conducted another survey of the marketplace, this time from Jan. 9 to 13 of items needed for school. The survey was by the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor.

Although Costa Rica has mostly free public education, the materials and uniforms are not free, and some children do not attend school because their parents cannot afford the outlay.

The ministry also urged shoppers to compare prices. When the ministry did, its surveyors found differences of up to 919 percent for similar items. They checked 909 types of products, the ministry said. Surveyors went to 14 stores selling school uniforms and 123 that sell school needs like notebooks.

The biggest variation was between a young man’s school shirt that sold for 7,190 colons (about $14.25) in La Gloria in San José and one that sold for 795 colons ($1.58) at Walmart in Guadalupe.  The ministry noted that similar articles may be of vastly different quality. Still, the price differences in five other top items ranged from 860 percent to 344 percent.

Identical clothing items were much closer in price. School socks showed a difference of 68 percent in the survey of Central Valley stores. Other identical items differed from 3.1 to 67.60 percent.

Identical school supplies showed a wider variation. Identical erasers ranged form 808 colons to 1,695 colons. That is from $1.60 to $3.36.

The survey used the list of minimum required supplies provided by the Ministerio de Educación Pública for the various grade levels. The survey did not include the fees for enrollment, textbooks or other costs that depend on the individual institution.

The full survey is on the ministry Web site with names of stores and the prices listed. The central government provides lower-income families with financial aid for students in school under the Avancemos program.

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