Have you heard the Staples advertisement set to the holiday tune of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year with parents leaping for joy that the kids are going back to school? I’m guessing fewer parents are leaping for joy and more are feeling a holiday-like pinch with the cost of school fees for sports, music, field trips, labs, etc. rivaling or exceeding with most parents spend per child at the holidays. In many high schools, parents pay hundreds of dollars a year so their children can play sports or march in the high school band.
Wasn’t there a time when public education in the U.S. was actually free? Isn’t it supposed to be?
Providing free public education is intended to create a well-informed populace that helps grow the country’s economy. All the state constitutions provide for free public education, however the interpretation of what must be provided without charge, and for what activities the schools may charge a fee, varies widely.
Generally, schools may not charge tuition for graded courses or other activities that impact a grade, fees for a cap & gown required to walk in graduation, and necessary school supplies like paper, pens, pencils, art supplies for a graded art class, composition books and bluebooks for exams. Public schools generally may charge for non-graded optional activities such as band trips and field trips, optional exams such as AP exams that are not required or included as part of the course grade, parking fees and food (except for meals provided as part of reduced-meal programs).
The problem is, schools often seem to set their own rules and unless parents complain, and may be charging fees that they shouldn’t. Look for more lawsuits this year like the ones being brought by the ACLU that question fees being charged by schools and are trying to bring more “free” back into public education.