NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charging for Public Schools

June 1, 2011

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, says the Wall Street Journal.

Though public schools have long charged for extras such as driver's education and field trips, many are now asking parents to pay for supplies needed to take core classes -- from biology-lab safety goggles to algebra workbooks to the printer ink used to run off grammar exercises in language arts.  In some schools, each class comes with a price tag, to be paid at registration.  Some schools offer installment plans for payment.  Others accept credit cards -- for a processing fee.

The proliferation of fees comes at a time when the cost of public education has been soaring. 

  • After adjusting for inflation, average spending per pupil has increased 44 percent over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Personnel costs -- which amount to about 80 percent of expenses in many school districts -- have driven some of the increase, along with increased costs for utilities and technology.
  • The average salary for a public-school teacher nationally has jumped 26 percent since 2001, though that growth didn't quite keep pace with inflation.
  • Large additional cuts are on the table this fiscal year in many states, among them California, Texas, Florida and Colorado.

At the same time, school revenue has plunged, mostly due to cutbacks in state funding.  Squeezed by lower tax revenue and higher expenses for programs such as Medicaid, states have cut education funding by a collective $17 billion in the past two fiscal years, though some of that was backfilled by the federal stimulus, says the Journal.

Source: Stephanie Simon, "Public Schools Charge Kids for Basics, Frills," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2011.

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