Published June 01, 2011
Does it seem like public education is carrying a private school price tag these days?
If you're a parent with children in public school you know just how ridiculous the charges and fees and special assessments can be. A new report from the Wall Street Journal shows schools aren't just charging for the frills -- like museum tickets for a field trip -- but for basics, like biology lab safety goggles, algebra workbooks and the like.
Sometimes, the schools charge for printer ink to copy grammar exercises. At high schools in several states, it can cost more than $200 just to walk in the door, due to registration fees, technology fees and instructional fees.
Isn't that what schools are supposed to do? Instruct?
Other schools have given up the fee-for-item scheme and charge students for taking classes. Money is due when your child registers. Some schools offer installment plans, while others accept credit cards -- but you have to pay a processing fee.
One particular family's finances tell the story. In Medina, Ohio, the Dombis spent $75 on generic fees, nearly $120 on class materials, $263 so their kids could get AP classes, and nearly $4,000 to join track and the band.
Not to mention the more than $2,700 in yearly property taxes. Their total cost to send their kids to public school for a year was almost $7,000 -- for a public school education.
To add insult to injury some schools even charge students who perform volunteer work -- charging a fee for kids who join Students Against Drunk Driving. Crazy? You bet.
Look, it's no doubt the case that the age of the free public education is over. Experts blame tight state budgets. And, it's true that cash-strapped states are slashing education -- in the past two years they've cut education funding by $17 billion.
And in some places like California, Texas and Florida, more major cuts could be on the way. But there may be more to blame than just tight budgets. According to the Journal, it's costing more -- way more -- to educate our kids today. Spending per student has increased 44% since the eighties.
And, the biggest single cost isn't fancy science labs or athletic fields -- its personnel. Teacher's salaries are up in the last decade by 26%. Those costs make up about 80% of a school district's budget.
Were results to be dramatically better, more kids graduating or significantly higher test scores -- many parents might be happy paying these higher prices.
But that's not what's going on. Performance is mediocre at best, while the cost of an education is soaring.
Educating our children is a high priority. Passing costs onto parents with sneaky fees is not a good solution -- especially when jobless rates are so high.
There has to be a better solution than nickel and diming mom and dad—and this is one problem that simply throwing more money at may not solve.