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Schools’ increasing fees put pinch on families

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Parents of some Colorado public-school students will spend hundreds of dollars this year on materials and textbook fees for their children’s science labs, electives, honors and other advanced courses.

High school students in Brighton 27J School District will pay semester fees ranging from $8 to $20 each for the materials for some of their required courses, such as math, science and social sciences.

In other school districts, including Douglas County and Denver, some students will pay for their own Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate textbooks.

At Legend High School in Douglas County, an AP calculus textbook and study guide cost $133 through the district.

Elementary school parents can pay about $60 for an EduKit that gives their children supplies.

The fees are part of a steadily growing trend across the nation. As school tax funding is cut, fees for the most popular courses are supplanting government support, a process that, for some, challenges the notion of a free public education.

These fees come on top of activities fees, which can range from $30 for an extracurricular club to $150 per sport at some schools. And they come at a time when high school students feel increasing pressure to take advanced courses and to pile up extracurricular activities if they want to attend college.

A legal fine line

The average freshman entering Brighton High School this year will pay the school at least $151 in fees for supplies before graduating.

Predicting a 5 percent decrease in state funding, the district was finding it difficult to cover the costs of workbooks and novels that students write in, as well as other materials generally used only once, said Suzi DeYoung, the district’s chief financial officer.

DeYoung said the district isn’t calling the fees “mandatory” but rather “required,” meaning that students have to pay the fees unless they prove they can’t. Like many other districts, Brighton 27J offers waivers for low-income students.

All of this is legal under Colorado state law. School districts may charge fees for one-time- use, or “expendable,” materials and for textbooks, according to the state Department of Education. They may not, however, charge fees to enroll in classes.

Individual school districts decide whether students who don’t pay the fees may participate in the classes, the department said.

Some parents in Douglas County, one of the wealthier school districts, pay more than $100 a year in fees. All students pay a mandatory textbook fee — $10 for elementary school, $15 for middle school and $20 for high school.

Students taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, for which they often receive college credit if they score well on a final exam, sometimes pay additional costs.

Kara Fong of Castle Rock plans to take five IB classes at Douglas County High School this year. So far, the rising senior hasn’t heard about any textbook costs, but last year she paid $135 for books and $50 to rent an orchestra instrument.

To her mother, Betsy Keyack, that’s “an afterthought.”

“That’s what it takes,” Keyack said. “This is what it costs to go to school.”

Many schools walk a “fine line” when they tell parents about these textbook prices, said Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States, a group that works with education policymakers.

Schools might say a textbook is suggested for a class, but if they say it is required for a class, they are likely violating the law, Griffith said.

“In the past, when we talked about student fees, they were things that were easy to understand — extracurriculars and sports,” Griffith said. “What you might be getting now is that some schools are saying you don’t need AP to graduate. AP is an extra activity like football, but that’s not an interpretation, I think, that will fly.”

Barrier to higher ed

The news that some public schools are asking students to pay lab fees or textbook fees for advanced courses surprised, and in some cases angered, admissions directors at state universities.

Both Jim Rawlins, executive director of admissions at Colorado State University, and Kevin MacLennan, director of admissions at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said they wouldn’t automatically turn down students who don’t take the advanced-level courses, but they might wonder why the students didn’t take them.

Both said that if students told them they didn’t take courses or didn’t participate in extracurricular activities for financial reasons, they would take that information into account.

Rawlins said that if he hears about students opting out of activities or courses for financial reasons, he might tailor the school’s admissions talks to encourage students to disclose their financial hardships.

“What disturbs me,” Rawlins said, “is the notion of a student even having to fork out even $1 for a class that prepares them for college.”

-Liz Navratil

The cost of educating a child

AURORA Advanced Placement students pay the exam cost if they want college credit. Sports are $55 each, $110 maximum fee per student, $160 maximum per family.

BOULDER VALLEY AP students pay the exam cost if they want college credit and costs for some workbooks/supplies, ranging from $15 to $80 depending on the course. Sports cost $185 each, $405 maximum per family (combined middle school and high school maximum).

BRIGHTON SCHOOL DISTRICT AP students pay the exam cost if they want college credit and costs for some workbooks/supplies, ranging from $10 to $15 depending on the subject. Sports are $115 each with no cap.

DENVER AP students pay the exam cost if they want college credit and textbook costs for some classes. Sports are $60 each.

DOUGLAS COUNTY AP students pay the exam cost if they want college credit and textbook costs for some classes. Sports are $150 each, no maximum per family.

JEFFERSON COUNTY AP students pay for the exam if they want college credit and for some supplies and as much as $75 for textbooks. Sports cost $150 each.

Source: Colorado school districts


Want to complain?

Parents with complaints should work up the school’s chain of command of teachers, principals and, if necessary, superintendents and school-board members.

Those unsatisfied with school-board decisions could try approaching the state Department of Education, said Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

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  • comment avatar Pookie August 2, 2011

    It’s time for a paradigm shift. More education, less daycare. Public schools need to focus on core subjects and only core subjects and get rid of the (increasingly socialist) fluff:

    >No more school sports. Club sports is increasingly where the action is anyway.

    >No more art or music in school. The private sector will provide after school programs for interested families, and the charitable among us can provide scholarships for those that can’t afford them.

    >No more gym classes. You know that beatiful, empty park you drive by everyday? Use it.

    >No more school-provided lunches or breakfasts. Bring a brown sack from home. If you’re just dying to feed kids who aren’t fed by there parents, set up a separate charitable program with its own dedicated budget.

    >Eliminate middle managers and administrators for above-mentioned items.

    Focused, intensive, creative study in reading, writing, math, science, and technology unburdened by funds drained by non-essential budget-eaters would lead to decreased overall costs, shorter school days, lower overhead, and improved competitivnessness in the world economy. Period.

  • comment avatar Bill August 2, 2011

    I really like all these suggestions. They have great merit and are definitely worthy of debate. The problem is that we are currently paying enough to fully fund all these things – we are just not getting our money’s worth. We could easily cut all you suggest and save 25-35% of what we currently pay for public schools. Do you think we could get a cut in taxes if they make those cuts? With Democrats in charge, they would just find some other way to waste our money and come squealing back every year (as they do now) complaining that the taxpayers are greedy and don’t pay enough.

  • comment avatar Mike F August 2, 2011

    The problems are twofold: 1) Xeroxing ain’t all that cheap, and 2) that corporation has a whole army of lawyers who can sue the whee out of the school district if I’m not mistaken.

    How about this for another idea: provide kids with a super-sized Kindle. It costs about $150, and kids could download books at school, probably at a fraction of the cost of what it takes to buy textbooks, and the publisher could update the books pretty much on an as-needed basis.

  • comment avatar 2Cents August 2, 2011

    Perhaps but when people do NOT pass a bond, only the parents of schoolchildren end up paying the tax instead of every homeowner.

    When are voters going to figure that out? I’d much rather approve a bond issue and share the cost than absorb it myself just because I happen to have three schoolage children. Declining housing values have reduced my property taxes anyway.

  • comment avatar Andrea M August 2, 2011

    Xeroxing is still cheaper than the $15 language workbooks my mom had to buy every year since 7th grade that were only ever half used. And again, hang the corporation, teachers make copies all the time. All else fails, have a student slave, er I mean aid, type the page up and print it out. As for the Kindle, a regular one would do in my experience with the device. However, kids being kids, the device would get smashed to bits, spilled on, used to play keep away from smaller kids, etc. At least hardcover texts have longevity on their side and workbooks aren’t a bill and a half to replace

  • comment avatar Melissa P August 2, 2011

    My children attend Denver public schools. On top of texbook fees, I also have to pay for intersessions, planners, gym uniforms, fees for field trips (including extra if they need to use a bus),and for them to use the computer lab. What’s sad is if I don’t pay some of these fees they won’t pass certain classes.

  • comment avatar David August 4, 2011

    My Junior at Golden High School has a fee schedule of $550 !!!
    About $250 is for AP class books.
    Plus there is a $100 “bus fee” I’m grousing about.

    Anyone looked at their property tax bill? Most of it goes to schools.

    I think they need to live within their budget rather than coming after us.

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