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Tribune Editorial: Utah needs to have a look at burdensome school fees

Published June 15, 2017 6:27 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fees for a student in junior high school can easily add up to more than $200, including money for academic funds, activity fees, instruction materials, day planners, fine arts classes, an online writing program, science fees, physical education uniforms, play sweatshirts, choir uniforms and yearbooks. Some districts charge students $5 for each tardy. Monetizing attendance is counterintuitive to a free and public education.

School fees have spiraled out of control. In response, the Utah State Board of Education has approved a study of the fees school districts charge students.

In the Salt Lake City School District, for example, administrative procedures state that no fees will be charged students in K-6, and each school will provide the necessary supplies. But teachers often ask students to bring additional supplies – some even offer extra credit for such donations. How can a student's grade be impacted by how much money he gives?



These same procedures allow schools to charge fees and fines to students in grades 7-12, subject to fee waiver provisions. But they also require that a school "under no circumstances" prohibit a student from enrolling based on the non-payment of a fee or fine.

Yet parents receive an email at the end of the year warning them that if the fees are not paid, high school seniors cannot walk at graduation or receive their yearbooks, and students in other grades cannot receive yearbooks and cannot register for classes the following year.

Obviously, school districts are not following their own policies. And the policies themselves are unnecessarily burdensome.

Districts argue the fees are OK because low-income students can obtain fee waivers. But obtaining such a waiver requires parents to submit W-2s or tax returns. Do our school districts really need to be so invasive?

The fees act as a disincentive to participation in the school community, and brandish certain students with scarlet As, whether peers know about the waiver or not. Embarrassment could prompt a student not to request a waiver, and force that student to instead limit the activities she takes part in.

This is a loss to the student as well as the school community. What if she is an amazing artist, and no one ever knows, and no teacher ever encourages her? What if she is a talented soccer player but can't afford the team fees and doesn't want to be known as the poor kid?

Utah schools can do better than nickel and dime its students. If the districts won't voluntarily rein in inequitable costs and think of better funding solutions, then perhaps the state board should do it for them.

 

 

 

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