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The 2016 National Back-To-School Guide: Free Resources for Students & Teachers

By: Lindsey Carman

The Crunch: Education can be expensive. The costs of getting ready to head back to school can start piling up and straining the budget, especially for low-income families. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, our National Back-to-School Guide offers resources so you don’t bust your budget on school supplies this year. We’ve scoured the web and found some helpful websites and nonprofits that supply both students and teachers with all they could ask for — at an affordable price. If you’re looking for free school supplies, back-to-school clothes, lunch programs, scholarships, grants, support programs, advice, or online resources, look no further than our list of resources for students and teachers.

A new school year means fresh starts and blank sheets of notebook paper. It’s when sun-tanned students return to their books and try to remember what it’s like to stay indoors and study. It’s also perhaps one of the rare times when students and teachers are on the exact same page — in need of affordable school supplies.

When August looms on the horizon of summer fun, it’s time to start buying paper, folders, backpacks, and other school-time essentials. All this can quickly add up for students and teachers, but not if they know what free resources are available.

Below we’ve categorized 61 national and local organizations that offer free school supplies, lunch programs, online printables, back-to-school advice, scholarships, grants, and other supportive materials. Teachers, click here to jump down to our Free Resources for Teachers section. Students, read on and study up!

Free Resources: Student Edition

On average, sending a K-12 student back to school costs about $100 in school supplies alone, so snagging free backpacks, notebooks, and other necessary items can make attending school much more affordable. The resources we’ve listed below are an excellent place to start your back-to-school shopping.

Kids raising their hands in class

Many non-profit organizations help K-12 students by donating or supplying all they need to learn and grow.

Raise your hand if you’re ready to start browsing and learning! To jump ahead of the class to specific student resources, use the links below for the different categories we have to offer.

Free School Supplies for Students

School supplies are important — and not just because a kindergartner’s social worth is measured by how many crayons he or she has. Not having something to write with or something to write on can seriously impede a student’s education. No one wants to start off the school year less prepared than their peers.

Here are 8 national and local organizations that provide free school supplies for underprivileged students:

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
The Salvation ArmyProvides hunger relief, housing & homeless services and emergency disaster relief Back-to-School Supply DriveTel: 1-(800) 323-9084
Boys & Girls Clubs of AmericaFosters life-enhancing and skill-building programs for boys and girls in the U.S.Back-to-School CampaignTel: (404) 487-5700
First BookDistributes millions of books and educational resources to programs and schoolsAccess to New Books Tel: (866) READ-NOW
Voice 4 NationsCombats homelessness, contaminated water, and bullyingOperation Give Back Tel: (866) 597-4700
Back-to-School RoundupOffers school supplies to underserved students and families in Tarrant County, TexasPre-RegistrationTel: (817) 754-0227
Kids in Need FoundationEnsures that kids are prepared for school with all the supplies they needSchool-Ready
Operation HomefrontAssists service members, wounded warriors, and families; hosts a nationwide school-supply collection campaign annuallyBack-to-School BrigadeTel: (210) 549-4600
Alameda Education FoundationGives K-12 students from low-income households school supplies and new backpacksEquipped 4 SuccessTel: (510) 337-7189

All these charitable groups are dedicated to helping underprivileged students prep for school with programs offering free supplies.

Free Back-To-School Clothes for Students

We’ve put together a list of 4 local foundations and national organizations that offer free back-to-school clothes and uniforms to eligible students. Some host annual charity-sponsored drives while others collect donations all year round.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
Back-to-School Clothing DriveArizona’s oldest and largest distributor of school uniforms, backpacks, and school supplies to students attending Title 1 elementary schoolsSchool Uniform
Treehouse for KidsGives foster kids in WA access to the resources and support systems they need in order to graduate from high schoolAcademic ProgramsTel: (206) 767-7000
Back-to-School Clothes for KidsOffers new school clothing to needy children in Westchester and the BronxNew School Clothing Tel: (914) 576-6053
Citizens Caring for ChildrenSupports foster kids in Oklahoma by meeting their material, emotional, and intellectual needsBack-to-School ProgramTel: (405) 753-4099

These groups will quickly have students dressed to impress — without a high price tag.

Free Lunch Programs for Students

Buying lunch every day for the whole school year can take a toll on financially struggling families, so the following 3 national school lunch (and breakfast) programs provide free or low-cost meals to eligible students.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
United States Department of AgricultureFunds a federally assisted meal program that gives nutritional and low-cost or free lunches to children each school dayNational School Lunch ProgramBy State
Food Research & Action CenterProvides a fresh fruit or vegetable snack to all students in participating schools; encouraging healthier school environmentsNational Fresh Fruit and Vegetable ProgramTel: (202) 986-2200
Feeding AmericaReduces child hunger, promotes good nutrition, and provides nutritionally balanced food each school daySchool Breakfast ProgramTel: (800) 771-2303

These charitable groups serve a vital role in the U.S. education system. When you feed your brain, you’ll be ready for whatever your teachers can throw at you.

Free Scholarships & Programs for Students

Certain organizations and associations offer scholarships and mentoring programs to promising young students, helping the next generation make their academic dreams a reality. Online, you can find a world of opportunity for growth and support. Eligible students have the chance to earn thousands of dollars to advance their future education.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
The National Society of High School ScholarsSupports the development of scholars in ethical action, service leadership and pursuit of academic excellenceScholarship OpportunitiesTel: (866) 343-1800
The NEA FoundationProvides grants to foster problem solving and critical thinking in students at U.S. public schools and higher educationStudent Achievement GrantsTel: (202) 822-7840
Step Up for StudentsAlleviates the educational challenges faced by Floridian children who live in or near povertyIncome-based & Special Needs ScholarshipsTel: (877) 735-7837
Sponsors for Educational OpportunityA free 8-year program in NYC and San Francisco that helps over 700 public high school students get to and through collegeSEO Scholars
Reading is FundamentalProvides free books and literacy resources to children and their families, motivating kids to read moreBooks for OwnershipTel: 1-(877)-RIF-READ
Schools on WheelsEnhances educational opportunities for homeless K-12 kids; provides them with the highest level of education possibleAcademic and B.U.S. ProgramsTel: (805) 641-1678
Military Child Education CoalitionServes as a model for positive leadership and ensures quality educational opportunities for military-connected kidsScholarships & ProgramsTel: (254) 953-1923

High-achieving and hard-working students will find plenty of opportunity for success with the financial support of these scholarships and learning programs. Most have specific requirements, so be sure to read carefully through the description before applying.

Helpful Back-to-School Advice for Students

Heading back to school can be a rough transition for students as well as parents. Here are some beneficial articles and guides on how students can tackle common back-to-school issues. For parents who want to get their kids off on the right foot and for students in need of a quick refresher before the first day of school, these 6 resources have wonderful free advice.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
Understood.orgHelps millions of parents whose children (ages 3-20) struggle with learning and attention issuesSchool & Learning
National Parent Teacher AssociationEngages and empowers families to advocate for all children so that they may reach their potentialParents’ Guides to Student SuccessTel: (703) 518-1200
National Association of School PsychologistsAssists school psychologists by advancing effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior, and mental healthBack-to-School Guides for FamiliesTel: (301) 657-0270
National Association for Gifted ChildrenDevelops policies and practices that stimulate, support, and challenge gifted studentsBack-to-School Resource RoundupTel: (202) 785-4268
School FamilyProvides parents with expert insight on how their kids can make the most of their school yearArticles, Blog, Quizzes &
GreatKids!Offers invaluable content and tools for  parents raising kids from preschool to 12th gradeBack-to-School Lists &

Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean your kids should stop learning and growing — parents can help their kids stay sharp by having access to age-appropriate learning materials. Whether you’re a student looking for academic prep materials or a parent in need of tips on back-to-school shopping, you’ll find many websites greatly beneficial to students readying for the fall.

Free Online Resources for Students

To help students excel starting from the first day of school and beyond, these 7 organizations provide free worksheets, learning tools, and other printables on various subjects and topics. To brush up on school-related material before school actually starts, take a look at these free learning tools.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
EdudemicCreates awesome students through expert guides, technological tools, and evidence-driven learning strategiesOnline Tools &
Education.comServes as a digital resource of diverse and high-caliber content for parents, students, and teachers across the countryWorksheets & PrintablesSupport Center
Free Software FoundationPromotes the development and use of free software for computer users in schools and homesFree Software
ShmoopBalances a teen-friendly, approachable style with academically rigorous materials to help students understand why academics matterLearning
Reading RocketsOffers information about how young kids learn to read, the challenges of literacy, and how caring adults can helpTopics, Strategies & Tip
Reading is FundamentalProvides free new books, reading checkups, and other literacy resources to children, encouraging independent readingLiteracy Resources1-(877) RIF-READ
Apache OpenOfficeProvides open-source software projects for the public goodOpenOffice SoftwareContact Page

Giving students a great start in school will increase their chances of succeeding in higher education. The folks at The Apache Software Foundation couldn’t agree more. We spoke with project management committee member Rob Weir who said the organization offers free software because they want everyone to have the same opportunity to achieve their academic goals — no matter their income:

“We want to ensure that everyone can have access to this software around the world. Our volunteers are pleased to contribute to that effort.” — Rob Weir, The Apache Software Foundation

So take advantage of these free resources, not only to save money, but to improve every student’s educational experience overall.

Free Resources: Teacher Edition

Sometimes teachers need just as much help as students getting prepped for the first day of school. To help out, we’ve gathered some of the best organizations that give teachers the resources to inspire their students. From supplies to advice, these helpful places on the web will get you ready for the school year.

An apple on a teacher's desk

Teachers can go online to find the resources, supplies, and support they need to help their students reach their potential.

Got something specific in mind? You can use the navigation below to jump down to the category that interests you:

Free School Supplies for Teachers

Teachers don’t just give their time to their students, they often give their own money to make sure their classrooms are as helpful as possible.

In 2013, the Retail Market Awareness Study found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers spend an average $485 of their own money on school supplies throughout the school year. To give teachers the resources they need at little-to-no cost,  the following 6 organizations provide free classroom supplies.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
ClasswishFulfills a teacher’s Wish List by engaging community support around educationClassroom
First BookDistributes millions of books and educational resources to programs and schools in needReceive Books for Your ClassroomTel: (866) READ-NOW
A Gift for TeachingImproves public education by providing a surplus of materials free to teachers at high-needs schoolsA Gift for Teaching Free StoresTel: (407) 318-3123
Donors ChooseLets donors find worthy causes and projects in schools all over the U.S.Create a ProjectDonor Contact Form
Supply Our SchoolsMatches donors with the needs of teachers and students in underprivileged school districtsTeacher
Adopt a ClassroomGives first-year and seasoned teachers a hand by providing necessary classroom materials for art, music, and literacyConnect for SuccessTel: (877) 444-7666

The right teaching supplies for your classroom are readily available through the charitable efforts of organizations like these. You don’t have to invest your own hard-earned cash to help your students succeed — simply go online to find a low-cost option.

Free Grants & Programs for Teachers

Great teaching means great research; it doesn’t just happen on its own. That’s why these national organizations and associations help teachers build on their expertise and knowledge base with useful grants and programs that help cover the cost of continuing education. We’ve picked out 7 grant and funding opportunities that can help you become an ever better teacher.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
Teach.comDedicates its education resources to discovering, discussing, and encouraging great teaching around the worldGrants for
TeachersCountRaises the status of the teaching profession and provides resources to the education communityTopical Grants for
Digital WishDevelops new online tools and promotions that enable teachers to get new technology for their classroomsApply for GrantsTel: (866) 344-7758
National Art Education AssociationAdvances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global enlightenmentGrants & OpportunitiesTel: (703) 860-8000
The NEA FoundationProvides funding, best-practice ideas, support, and accolades for educators at U.S. public schools and higher educationSpecial Grants to EducatorsTel: (202) 822-7840
International Literacy AssociationA global advocacy organization that publishes cutting-edge research on literacyAwards & Grants for 2015Tel: (800) 336-7323
National Charter School Resource CenterProvides on-demand resources and technical assistance to support high-quality charter schoolsUpcoming Funding OpportunitiesTel: (713) 955-2727

Grants are a great way to further the education and development of teachers in the U.S. If you want to learn how to better serve your students, you might want to consider applying for a grant to support your efforts.

Back-to-School Advice for Teachers

Feeling a little nervous about the first day? Maybe you’re looking to refresh your technique on rewarding good behavior or want to explore new seating arrangements for the classroom.Articles abound with advice and tips to help smooth the back-to-school transition for teachers old and new. These 8 organizations provide excellent strategies and tips for starting off the school year right.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
Education WorldOffers a complete online resource that teachers, administrators, and school staff can use to find original and quality contentTips & ResourcesTel: (800) 227-0831
National Education AssociationAdvocates for education professionals and fulfills the promise of public education to prepare every student for the worldAdvice & SupportTel: (202) 833-4000
ScholasticEncourages intellectual and personal growth of all kids with printable materials and planning toolsTeachers SectionTel: 1-(800) SCHOLASTIC
National Association for the Education of Young ChildrenPublishes development resources intended to improve the quality of programs for young kids from birth to age 8PublicationsTel: (202) 232-8777
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education NetworkFocuses on ensuring safe schools for all students of all orientations and backgroundsEducator ResourcesTel: (212) 727-0135
Institution of Education SciencesProvides rigorous and relevant evidence on successful educational methods and shares this information with teachersTopics in EducationTel: (212) 727-0135
Teaching ToleranceLeading a discussion with educators who care about tolerance, diversity, equal opportunity, and respect in schoolsClassroom ResourcesTel: (334) 956-8200
Council for Exceptional ChildrenImproves the educational success of individuals with disabilities, gifts, and/or talentsSpecial & Gifted TopicsTel: 1-(888) 232-7733

Teachers interested in improving their teaching methods can peruse articles intended to inform and advise on hot topic areas in education.

Free Online Resources for Teachers

Good teachers are always on the lookout for cheaper ways to incorporate new techniques and technologies in the classroom. These 11 organizations offer free online teaching tools to augment a teacher’s influence on his or her students.

OrganizationMissionResourcesContact Information
Discovery EducationTransforms classrooms and captivates students by leading the way in educational content for grades K-12Free Teacher ResourcesTel: 1-(800) 323-9084
EducentsOffers an online marketplace for affordable educational productsFreebies for TeachersTel: 1-(800) 805-8460
International Literacy AssociationPublishes cutting-edge research on literacy and advocates making literacy accessible across the globeUnits & Lesson PlansTel: (800) 336-7323
National Council of Teachers of EnglishImproves the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of educationLesson Plans & Teaching ResourcesTel: (217) 328-3870
Campaign for the Civic Mission of SchoolsProvides educators, policymakers, and advocates with information they need to increase civic learning in the classroomLessons Plans & Programs Tel: (301) 850-7450
EdudemicConnects education with technology by emphasizing how technology positively shapes the educational processTech & Online Tools Guides
Teaching ChannelCreates a community where teachers can watch, share, and learn new techniques to help every student
Adolescent LiteracyGives information, strategies, and resources to the parents and educators of struggling adolescents grades 4-12Resource for TeachersTel: (703) 998-2600
EdutopiaShowcases what works in education so K-12 students can thrive in their studies, careers, and adult livesOver 80 Educational
Free Software FoundationSecures freedom for computer users by promoting the development and use of free softwareFree Software
Apache OpenOfficeProvides open-source software projects for the public goodOpenOffice SoftwareSupport Forum

These organizations believe teachers should have all the tools they need to make the school year an incredible one for every student under their charge. This idealistic goal is one of the most important components of the International Literacy Association:

“Educators are the foundation of ILA’s literacy mission, which is why we aim to give teachers the tools they need to do their best work in the classroom and their communities.” — Lara DeLoza, International Literacy Association

Groups like the ILA are doing their part, but there’s always more that can be done to promote education in the U.S. If every organization and individual pitches in to help our teachers, the future of education will look even brighter.

Save More When You Head Back to School

Hopefully you broke out your No. 2 pencils and took notes on where to find the best, most affordable school supplies and resources on the web. Students and teachers can take advantage of these outstanding tools so they have all they need to succeed from the first day of school and onward.

Kicking off the school year with confidence is easy when you have donors, nonprofits, and other organizations rooting you on. These foundations offer books, clothes, grants, software, and other resources to make a positive impact on the education of the next generation. Our in-depth 2016 National Guide for Students & Teachers highlights easy ways to save money and prepare to head back to school at the same time. Happy studies!