Educational Editorial: Changes in school fees

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Virginia Board of Education is now taking comments on changes in regulations related to school fees.

The Constitution of Virginia states, "The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools…" But, " does free mean completely free?"

The answer has historically been no. School boards may apply fees; gym suits, lab equipment, driver education.

State regulations also prohibit schools from assessing a "general instructional fee" -- a kind of user tax that supplements the school budget.

In 1996 Chesterfield eliminated a "general fee" that generated about $1.2 million a year.

And what about those families that cannot or do not pay fees? Virginia law requires that provisions must be made for the indigent, just like free and reduced lunches.

As for those who simply do not pay, the rest of us subsidize them…you may not refuse to provide the program, withhold report cards, or in any other way penalize the student or family instructionally.

So the reality is that the 70 percent of the homes that have no school-age children and the parents who pay their fees pick up the tab for those who do not.

Perhaps the Board of Education should consider some basic values in reviewing its regulations:

  1. Don't approve a fee that cannot be enforced
  2. Give local school boards some flexibility to be creative in determining fees for services
  3. Consider carefully the value of something that you get for nothing!

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