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The Cost of a Free Public Education

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The Cost of a Free Public Education?

For most families around the country, the end of August marks the beginning of a new school year. It also means that parents will be cringing as they receive emails with the dreaded shopping and fees lists from the school staff. While “free public education” is written into every state constitution across the nation, politicians and educators from both sides of the aisle have abandoned this core principle over the years. In a continued time when government budgets are tight, each level of bureaucracy, from local to federal, have chosen to cut educational funding and leave the financial shortfalls to the parents. Items that were once traditionally provided as part of a free education are now the families’ responsibilities, and it appears that the costs is only going to rise even higher in the coming years.

Most of us remember when our parents would take us shopping at the start of school each year. The only out-of-pocket expense was a Star Wars lunchbox or a Barbie backpack. If we were lucky, we would pick up a brand new pair of Nikes. Now parents are faced with everything from classroom supplies to locker rentals being requested from the schools. Here’s a few of the ridiculous expenses we find to be above and beyond that of a “free public education”…

  • Student Supplies – Everyone understands that students need to show up with pen and paper; however the specific nature of today’s school shopping list appears that educators own stock in particular office supply companies. Requiring a $6 pack of Ticonderoga pencils for a 2nd grader seems a bit much. Being that they have “asked” the parents to purchase these supplies – parents should be able to use their best judgement and buy items that fit within their budget. Last time we checked; a pack of blue pens from the local dollar store writes just as blue as a single $5 pen from the craft store.
  • Classroom Supplies – This is one of the most aggravating “requests” as it clearly shows how the politicians have passed along the financial responsibility to others. This list includes everything from Clorox® wipes to Expo® markers, and any other item teachers feel should be located in their classrooms for a clean and meaningful learning experience.  The list is not enough either. Principals send out robo-calls “suggesting” all students provide a $100 ‘fair share’ donation on top of the $20 classroom fee requested by each of their teachers. But once this fee is paid we still find ‘wish list’ items on little notes placed in our kids’ notebooks.
  • Uniforms – Some public schools are requiring uniforms to help keep potential appearance distractions out of the classroom. Arguing for or against uniforms has been done before. The issue we have with our particular situation is the ‘spirit wear’ days that happen on a regular basis. The school allows students to wear ‘spirit wear’, which is actually a code name for over priced t-shirts and sweatshirts sold by the school’s Parent/Teacher Organization. After spending several hundred dollars on the required uniforms, throwing in the cost of ‘spirit wear’ is an insult. Did we mention that we had to purchase a required uniform for physical education? Yes, even PE requires specific ‘spirit wear’ to be purchased.
  • Technology Fees – This year our middle schooler was issued a laptop, and while technology is a great thing – the required $50 technology fee and ‘suggested’ $67 yearly laptop insurance is not. This fee is especially high considering the laptops cost the school system absolutely nothing, they were purchased with a federal grant. What also puts the technology fee over the top is that the student could go purchase their own laptop with the money being spent on the school’s equipment for them to “maintain” them under the fee.
  • Rental Fees – Last but not least are the mandatory dues for capital items that the school owns outright. Rental, or often labeled as “usage” fees, cover charges for physical items that the school system is depreciating within their own financials. Such items include (but are not limited to) textbooks, lockers (yes! you have to rent lockers!) and parking spaces at high schools. All of which are physical assets that the tax payers purchased directly, yet the school system receives a return on this investment while providing little enhancement to the classroom environment where it is needed.

Now, before the hate mail begins… we get it. Teachers want to provide a fun, exciting (and clean) environment for the kids they care so much for. Many of them spent way too much of their own money purchasing items that the schools they work in should provide on a regular basis. While some teachers go overboard on specific requests (No RoseArt crayons PLEASE!, only Ticonderoga pencils!), many just want to stock their classrooms to match the lesson plans they’ve worked on all summer.

At one time school systems were given enough money to adequately operate their campuses and provide a truly free public education. Perhaps in the future politicians will put special interests aside, school systems will manage their budgets accordingly and families can save the money currently spent on expensive pencils and fees – placing those funds in a desperately needed college fund.