Grand Forks educators hope a tool that allows parents to compare prices for school supplies will make shopping easier and help families save money.

All Grand Forks Public Schools that have a school supplies list are using TeacherLists, a tool that links to retailers, brings up the items needed for each grade and allows parents to print the list or order online.

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"We try to make it as convenient as possible," said Kelli Tannahill, principal for Lewis and Clark Elementary School.

The first day of school in Grand Forks is fast approaching, and parents will need to hit the stores for supplies before students head back to class Aug. 27.

TeacherLists is designed to make the task easier, educators said. Tracy Jentz, the district's communications and community engagement coordinator, discovered the tool through Blackboard, the district's website provider. TeacherLists is free and is compatible with the district's school websites, so she brought it to the attention of administration and elementary school principals to gather input, she said in an email.

"We all concurred that it looked like a great tool we would try this school year and ask for feedback from our families after school begins," she wrote.

Parents can go to gfschools.org and choose the school their child attends. Each school that has a school supply list has a link to the items needed by class.

After clicking on the class link, the lists will pop up with a sidebar that shows where parents can order the items. The items will be placed into a list on each retailer's website and will show the prices. Then families can either ship the items to their home or, at some stores, have them ready for pickup.

Ben Franklin Elementary tried the online resource last year but only had one vendor, Principal Leslie Bjelde said. This year, all schools and parents have access to five retailers.

If a person still wants the experience of going to the store to pick out the items, they can print the lists and head to the store, Tannahill said.

Families in the U.S. have steadily spent more money on school supplies over the years, according to the National Retail Federation. The back-to-school season was expected to rake in about $27.5 billion this year for K-12 education, according to the federation. That's down from the expected amount of $29.5 billion last year but almost a 60 percent increase from 2009, when the National Retail Federation expected families to spend a total of $17.4 billion.

The average spending per household was slated at $685 this year, slightly down from last year but more than the 2009 estimate of $549, according to the federation.

Changes in technology have prompted changes in how students learn and, in turn, have changed what supplies students need to learn, Tannahill said. For example, some classes in the district use laptop for learning, which means students need headphones and Chromebook covers.

"Technology plays a little part in the trends and the changes as well," Tannahill said.

Teachers try to find ways to save parents money, Tannahill and Bjelde said. It's driven by a deeper understanding that some families cannot afford supplies, Bjelde said.

The schools also get supply donations from community members, organizations and businesses. Lewis and Clark has an anonymous "angel" who comes in with backpacks filled with supplies, and a person donated money to J. Nelson Kelly Elementary School so staff could buy supplies for students, Tannahill said.

"Every kid wants new supplies on that first day of school," she said.