My daughter and family just moved from
VA to and though they seem to like
it there, several things have been a bit of a surprise, including some fees
charged by their school district. At a social gathering shortly after they
arrived, a fellow remarked that he wondered how much free public education was
going to cost him this year. Last year, he said, it was $500. Topeka,
It soon became apparent that the school district has a fee for "textbook rental" and "technology" and other things. For my two grandchildren in second and fourth grades, the fees added up to $200. I went to the school district's website to learn more and was amazed to see the number of fees charged to students. Fees for a 7th grade class in "living skills" amount to $11.00 but 7th grade science is only $3.00. It costs $35 to participate in middle school sports. High school sports cost $45 and fees for science, art, music, business, debate, journalism, cooking, physical education, foreign languages and numerous other courses range from $11.00 to $33.00. As one who once supervised a high school newspaper and yearbook, I was really shocked to realize that to be on the staff of either publication in that high school, a student would have to pay $33 per semester.
Although over many years I was involved in education one way or another---student, teacher, school board member---it's been a while since I've paid much attention to the current situation, except to scold the South Dakota Legislature every year about its anemic support of public schools. (Yes, we still rank last in state per-pupil funding.) But spending just a few minutes on line asking about student fees in public schools was an education in itself.
Last year a lawsuit in
complained that 35 school districts were charging students fees to attend
classes in what is supposed to be a free public education. In California a woman complained that her
daughter would not be allowed to register for her junior year in high school if
she didn't pay $290 in fees. This woman is suffering from cancer and her
husband has lost his job. Fees in one Illinois New Orleans
school averaged over $1,000 and a school in charged $152 to enroll in
Advanced Placement chemistry. Georgia
Several schools charge fees for activities if not for classes, including in one case $1,833 for cheerleading and $400 for wrestling. Although there has been grumbling in some South Dakota school districts about the cost of co-curricular activities and the expense of bussing sports teams across the state to play a game, so far the idea of expecting students to pay to play volleyball or football doesn't seem to be something people are ready to accept.
There are some expenses for kids and their parents in attending public schools in many districts in
, including insurance for laptop computers the
school provides students or the cost of taking an Advanced Placement or ACT
test. Fees are often forgiven for low-income families who meet income
guidelines for free or reduced price lunches. And of course every parents knows
there are numerous expenses in sending a child to school, as indicated by the
lists in discount stores of school supplies for each grade. Yet the idea
remains--public education should be free. South
In fact, free public education has been considered so important that it is enshrined in our American history and in many state constitutions, including that of
Article VIII says it very well: "The stability of a republican form of
government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall
be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform
system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally
open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the
advantages and opportunities of education." South Dakota
Even though we rank last in state support of education, at least it's still free. But one school administrator told me, "The way things are going, it's hard to say how long that will last."
Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.