SCHOOL FEES: Are schools profiting from parents or helping students?

public school book fees to high

( – 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.”

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. Kindergarteners are paying about $70 each for community supplies like facial tissue, hand sanitizers and other related supplies. 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.

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.

benefitsHouseholds with children who qualify for free or reduced lunch also qualify for many other programs like a home phone for $5 per month, high speed Internet service at home from Comcast Internet Essentials for $9.95 and other programs.

With millions of dollars available under the new finance formula for schools with large numbers of low-income students, districts are pulling out all the stops to make sure they get an accurate count of their high-needs students. Because the new system defines “low income” as students who are eligible for the federal free- and reduced-price meals program, some districts are offering free Raiders tickets, ice cream parties, tickets to the county fair and other perks to encourage families to sign up for the National School Lunch Program.


Afterschool Snacks, part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), provides cash reimbursement to schools and residential child care centers to serve snacks to children who participate in afterschool education or enrichment programs.

To be eligible to participate in the afterschool snack program, competitive interscholastic sports teams are not an eligible afterschool program. The school or residential child care center must also operate the lunch component of the NSLP. In locations deemed area eligible, snacks are served free to all participating children. 

Snacks served to children must be nutritious. At a minimum, they must provide at least two different components of the following four: (1) fluid milk; (2) meat or meat alternate; (3) vegetables or fruits or full-strength vegetable or fruit juice; and (4) whole-grain or enriched bread or cereal.


The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions since 1946. The program provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to school children. School meals contribute to student learning success, while positively affecting their health and nutrition.

NSLP operates through agreements between the West Virginia Department of Education, the state administering agency, and the Local Education Agency (LEA) or other sponsor. Participating school districts and independent schools receive cash subsidies and donated commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal served. In return, sponsors must serve lunches that meet federal and state requirements, while offering free or reduced-price lunches to children whose families are income eligible.

Lunch meals will offer a minimum of 5 components (fruits, vegetables, grains, meat/meat alternate and milk) and must also meet dietary specifications for calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat.

The Special Milk Program (SMP) is a federal program that provides milk to students in participating private or nonpublic schools, half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs where access to the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program is not available. Camps operating during the summer months may also participate in the SMP. Children may buy milk or receive it free, depending on the choice of program options of the school/camp. The program encourages the consumption of fluid milk, while helping to defray the cost by providing the reimbursement for each half pint of milk served to children.

Schools or institutions must offer only pasteurized fluid types of unflavored or flavored fat free or low-fat (1%) fluid milk. These milks must meet all State and local standards. All milk should contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration.


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