First up was an article in the Times about student supply lists. From the article:
Long gone are the days of your parents' standard school fare: paper, pen, pencil and that familiar yellow Pee Chee. Today school supplies often include sanitizing wipes for cleaning up messes, hand sanitizer and three to four dozen pencils per child. That's more than enough for the entire class, but the theory is no student runs out and schools avoid the cost of having an emergency stash.
Many parents say they spend $100 per child buying the items on the list before they pay for musical instrument rental, PE clothes, ASB cards, sports and activity fees. And of course, it doesn't include the other high ticket item — school clothes.
Also on the list: tissues and flash drives, pocket dictionaries, calculators, colored pencils/crayons, and glue sticks.
What's happening in SPS?
A spokeswoman for the Seattle Council PTSA said the actual school-supply list in the Seattle School District hasn't changed much over the past few years, but PTSAs are picking up more of the cost of school office supplies.
Oh, right the PTA. They are picking up costs everywhere and as I have told the Board, at least twice now, when the PTA goes beyond enrichment and parent volunteers to maintenance of our buildings, funding teachers and paying for at-school supplies, then maybe parents should have a larger voice in our district.
Debbie Nelsen, principal at Seattle's Jane Addams Elementary, said her school is asking parents to pay $30 a child for supplies, which the school will then buy. Last year, the school charged all students $25 for supplies, but this year the sixth-through-eighth-graders have a long list and will have to get them on their own, she said. "We don't know yet if that will be a problem for parents of not," Nelsen said.
At some schools, it's all shared.
Where pencils are concerned, parents at Seattle's McGilvra Elementary were surprised to find that students were required to have 48 sharpened No. 2 pencils. The rest of the list includes four red and four black ballpoint pens, three packages of Post-it notes and a "water bottle to be taken home, cleaned and refilled daily."
Mercer Island's Lakeridge Elementary requires its second-through-fifth graders to bring 36 Ticonderoga presharpened No. 2 pencils.
"Over the course of the year, that's what kids use," said Peggy Chapman, administrative assistant at the school for the past 25 years. "It's called getting them all upfront. There was a time when we didn't require kids to bring anything. Just show up on the first day of school," she said.
Who do you suppose will be sharpening all 36 of those No.2 pencils? The other thing that makes me uncomfortable (and I expect to get dinged for it so fire away) is the large amount of supplies required. Clearly the teacher/principal is expecting some parents to either have forgotten to do this/can't afford it/didn't bring in the number of supplies asked for on the list.
The other article was from the NY Times about public schools getting sued over fees charged. From the article:
Public schools across the nation, many facing budget shortfalls, have been charging students fees to use textbooks or to take required tests or courses.
Now a civil liberties group is suing California over those proliferating fees, arguing that the state has failed to protect the right to a free public education. Experts said it was the first case of its kind, and could tempt parents in other states to file similar suits.
In the suit, to be filed in a state court in Los Angeles on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California names 35 school districts across California that list on their Web sites the fees their schools charge for courses including art, home economics and music, for Advanced Placement tests and for materials including gym uniforms.
For those of you who don't have children in middle or particularly high school, be prepared. The expenses can be very large. We do have athletic booster clubs and music booster clubs but there are fees galore. The student body card? Anywhere between $30-50. Yearbook? Anywhere from $20-60 (depending on middle/high school). Uniforms? I don't even know the answer to this one but I know they charge. What is interesting to me is that in the days of yore when I was in high school, the cheerleading outfits were school property. They got dry cleaned at the end of each season and passed on to the next group. Not anymore.
You have to buy your child their own cap and gown at graduation. These flimsy pieces of polyester cost about $60 and most schools don't recycle. (I have a Roosevelt guy's size small gown if anyone needs one. I tried to start a recycle closet for these and got nowhere.)
It is very hard to know where it goes over the line. So if it's an academic class, is that the responsibility of the school to pay for supplies needed to teach it? (Again, fyi, many high school LA classes require you to buy paperback books for your student to read.) If it's an AP class, I absolutely believe the district has to offer scholarships to F/RL students to take the test. It's $80. But is being in the band or playing a sport something that the district should pay the costs in full? And, if there are costs, how to make it so every child who wants to participate, can participate? Because I know plenty of parents who do fund-raise so that there are scholarships for these activities but feel the pain of supplying 2 or 3 of their own children.
What does this mean legally (italics mine)?
“What’s new here is that this is not about funding levels for education, but about whether districts are charging kids to get a public education,” Mr. Griffith said. “That’s a brand-new argument. I wouldn’t be surprised to see groups in other states adopt the same line of reasoning.”
In San Diego, one of the cities whose school system is cited in the suit, a grand jury investigated similar reports this year and concluded that the fees were prohibited under California law. Nonetheless, the grand jury said in a June report, “Student fees are charged in almost all district schools.”
Again, back to that question: what is a basic education?