Educational Editorial: School fees

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Virginia Board of Education is looking at school fees. While this process has drawn much analysis, in reality it is an annual agenda item. So what is different?

Clearly the economy causes every family to look at what they are spending, and the opening week usually demands another check to schools. And then there are clothes, computers, backpacks, supplies, and materials. Therefore, the popular "sales tax" holiday that begins this week is a win-win.

According to the National Retail Federation, families with school age children will spend an average of $548 on school supplies, so for Virginians this means savings.

For retailers, the cash registers ringing in the new school year will likely generate $47 billion nationally. Even with the "sales tax" holiday, school opening is a critical time for state revenue some of which goes directly to localities to support schools.

Well, there is also another issue that the Board of Education is charged with enforcing. Article VIII and Section I of the Constitution of Virginia states: The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children..."

Litigation in the 70's rendered that "free" does not mean completely free.  Typically the Board has prohibited the use of a "general instructional" fee, another way to generate revenue.

Personal items like lab attire and gym suits are acceptable. Non-core items like driver education fees may be charged. Yet, how far past free can you go? The Board each year approves a list of acceptable fees, this year they are likely to give it renewed scrutiny.

(c) 2009. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.