When the public quits paying for public schools
Facing budget shortfalls, public schools are starting to ask families to cover some expenses, including academic classes in some cases
An article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal struck me as related to the overall financial woes facing the public sector more broadly–and not just the state and local level financing of public schools that is the focus of the story by the WSJ’s Stephanie Simon. She explains:Skip to next paragraph
'EconomistMom' (Diane Lim Rogers) is Chief Economist of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan, non-profit organization which advocates for fiscal responsibility, and the mom of four (amazing) kids to whom she dedicates her work. She’s been blogging since Mother’s Day 2008.
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Budget shortfalls have prompted Medina Senior High [in Medina, OH] to impose fees on students who enroll in many academic classes and extracurricular activities. The Dombis had to pay to register their children for basic courses such as Spanish I and Earth Sciences, to get them into graded electives such as band, and to allow them to run cross-country and track. The family’s total tab for a year of public education: $4,446.50.
“I’m wondering, am I going to be paying for my parking spot at the school? Because you’re making me pay for just about everything else,” says Ms. Dombi, a parent in this middle-class community in northern Ohio.
Public schools across the country, struggling with cuts in state funding, rising personnel costs and lower tax revenues, are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.
At high schools in several states, it can cost more than $200 just to walk in the door, thanks to registration fees, technology fees and unspecified “instructional fees.”
Well, I can vouch for that. At my kids’ public high school in Fairfax County, VA (which I assume is one of the wealthiest public school districts in the nation), I’m paying for the second year in a row of graduating seniors’ fees. If you want to see your kids donning honors cords atop their graduation gowns, you have to pay for them–just like you have to pay fees for them to join the honor societies in the first place. And yes, at my kids’ school, we do pay for a parking spot in the school lot. And I have other strange and seemingly random examples of things I’ve had to pay for this year, which I won’t get into because I don’t want it to come across as my griping about it.
I’m not griping, because it’s still undeniable that my kids’ public educations are still an exceptionally good deal for me. And I’m willing to help the school district with my private contributions, however they are labeled or to whatever specific purposes they are “earmarked,” to keep my kids in that high quality educational experience.
As the WSJ article continues:
Public-school administrators say the fees—some of which are waived for low-income families—allow them to continue to offer specialty classes and activities that would otherwise fall to the budget ax. Some parents support that approach, saying they’d rather pay for honors physics or drama than see those opportunities eliminated altogether.
Some educators, too, argue that fees are good public policy. In a time of fiscal austerity, they say it’s not fair to ask taxpayers to fund an all-inclusive education that offers Advanced Placement Art History, junior varsity golf and fourth-year German with little regard for the cost…
The concern though is how to get private contributions from those who can afford them without limiting the educational opportunities for those who cannot:
Many states require schools to waive academic, but not extracurricular, fees for the poorest students, generally those with an annual income less than $29,000 a year for a family of four. Those above the cutoff, however, can be sanctioned if they don’t pay in full. Schools may withhold their diplomas or ban them from commencement, which itself often carries a $30 to $60 “graduation fee.”
Even when waivers are available, advocates for the low-income contend that it violates the spirit of a free public education when parents must, in effect, seek charity to pay for their child’s math workbook. In California, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state for allowing districts to charge a wide array of fees.