Click here to see all Hamilton County school supply lists.
Selected required items in Hamilton County schools
* 1 box of cereal, 10 ounces or larger (Daisy Elementary)
* Head phones (several schools)
* Personal CD player (Apison Elementary)
* Flash drive (several schools)
* 2 pack of AA batteries in Duracell, Energizer or Rayovac brands (Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts)
* Paper plates (Clifton Hills Elementary)
* Candy and treats for rewards (several schools)
Items banned in some Hamilton County schools
* Trapper Keepers
* Gel pens
* Rolling backpacks
* Flexible rulers
The National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend $22.8 billion on K-12 back-to-school shopping this fall - an average of $603.63 per family.
An old sock, a box of Band-Aids and a rain poncho - sounds more like a MacGyver tool kit than items on a back-to-school shopping list.
But those items, along with other oddities such as tennis balls, digital kitchen timers and plain white T-shirts appear on school supply lists throughout the region as kids head back to class.
While such items may not seem like classroom essentials, teachers and principals say there's good reason for requiring them, especially in a time when schools are strapped for cash.
"I think the bottom line on this is that schools are not funded adequately," said Ray Swoffard, Hamilton County's deputy superintendent of elementary education.
Falling Water Elementary School Principal Lea Ann Burk said many principals are being more prudent with the lists they approved because of the struggling economy.
"We really do try to look at it with a critical eye - more so now than we ever did," she said.
Along with the occasional wacky requests, most Hamilton County students will bring paper towels, household cleaners and disinfecting wipes when they arrive for the first day of school today. A review of all Hamilton County supply lists available online showed cleaning supplies and other general supplies such as copy paper, Band-Aids, dry erase markers and sticky notes are common.
"We don't get a goody bag of school supplies from the district," said Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association. "That's why we ask for those things."
Teachers receive $100 from the state to purchase supplies, but that doesn't go far in stocking a whole classroom, Hughes said.
"We have a classroom. We have lights," she said. "But they don't provide cleaning supplies for the teachers. They don't provide markers for the boards."
As for the odder items, tennis balls are on some supply lists at Chickamauga Elementary School in Georgia because staff members place them on the feet of chairs to avoid damaging the floors. Some Hamilton County schools count headphones as necessities so kids can listen to educational software individually. And digital kitchen timers are used to time certain classroom activities.
Copy paper is a coveted item, because each Hamilton County school is required to purchase its own stock of paper with the supply fees it collects, said Falling Water's Burk. Most students will go through an entire ream of paper in homework alone, she said, so teachers need more than what's available at the school.
Burk said supply lists have changed vastly since she entered the world of education 30 years ago. Back then, basics such as crayons and markers were the norm, she said.
But even though today's lists contain some nonacademic items, most requests are necessary for running a classroom, she said.
"It's pretty much things we want our kids to have that the district doesn't supply," she said.
But Tamika Taylor, who has a third-grade daughter and fifth-grade son at Lakeside Academy of Math, Science and Technology, said the long lists can feel like a financial burden.
She said she spends more than $100 on her children's supplies and ends up spending more on the requested cleaning supplies than she does on actual school supplies. Given the poor economy and the separate supply fee that many schools require from parents - fees that range from about $5 to $65 - Taylor said either the supply lists or the fees should go.
"Why both of them?" she said. "It's just a little too much."
Swoffard said teachers generally spend their own money on classroom supplies, and today's lists show that they're probably now starting to ask parents to chip in.
"Teachers over the years have taken a lot of this out of their pockets," he said. "As things get tight, I guess they try to get the parents' support."