School Costs for Parents

Two articles caught my eye in the last couple of weeks as kids headed back to school. The cost of sending your child to public school is the topic.

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?


MathTeacher42 said…
Part of the high count of stuff is in part due to classroom management issues.

It is NO longer 'Leave It To Beaver', where a teacher has 1 Eddie Haskell challenging them -

the amount of time which could be wasted per class per kid per day while kid(s) dink around getting another pencil, another piece of paper, another eraser ...

do the math!

1 minute wasted a day, times 180 days, ALL divided by 50 minutes per class = how many lost class days to dinking around?

As with so many things in today's education world, I can't justify it, I can attempt to explain it.

Hey! I have an idea!

LET'S HAVE MORE $75,000 & $100,000 a year CON$ultant$ making powerpoints!

What is that Professional Development Algorithm?

1. group work & differentiation solve ALL learning and classroom
management issues!

A. IF the class is a zoo, then you're not doing groupwork /
differentiation correctly.

B. IF the kids aren't learning, then you're not doing groupwork /
differentiation correctly.

C. IF A OR B, or, IF A AND B, THEN we'll blame YOU and fire YOU!

(pst! let me share a secret - the high school classes where the kids are doing better are the classes where being prepared isn't something the teacher has to spend time baby sitting! LOMG!)

ma'am said…
Lucky for us, grandma took the kids back to school supply shopping this year and it cost $75 per kid! This is the first year we've had to buy supplies for back to school. When my kids were at AS#1, the school provided all of the supplies to keep it equitable. The money came from the school's 503c fundraising group. In the past the school was able to raise 10s of 1000s of dollars through the auction, a-othon, and grants but has been struggling the past couple of years. I don't know if they sent out supply lists this year or not.

Seems to me bulk shopping is the better way to go. That way teachers can buy what they need and don't have to find a place to store 200 boxes of klenex or keep track of 120 sharpies. Plus, there's probably enough savings from buying in bulk to subsidize the kids who can't pay for supplies.
seattle citizen said…
Apples are still a bargain!
Moose said…
How about the graphing calculators that are $100 - $120 each?! The teacher will allow students to use hers during class time, but to do homework we will have to purchase one. I am appalled at this cost -- it really is a stretch for us and I can't help but wonder what happens to the kids whose families cannot pony up the $ for this item.
Maureen said…
This is one of the culture shock issues that hit me when my oldest moved from his K-8 alternative school to his large north end High School. At the K-8, teachers are all budgeted (from parent fundraising) about $300 to cover classroom expenses, every field trip and activity (including ski bus) permission slip has scholarship (request and donation) lines and states that no one is ever excluded from any activity for financial reasons. (Just ask the teacher, counselor or principal-no proof required.)

One of the first HS PTSA meetings I attended featured presentations by the booster clubs. When I asked the sports booster guy (If my memory serves me, they raise $500K per year) what the scholarship process looks like, he was genuinely puzzled. When I explained what I meant (basically, what if a poor kid wants to play water polo?), he said--oh I guess they could tell one of their friends that they can't afford to pay, and then, sure, I guess we would let them play anyway.

I have no idea how those kids get their French workbooks (etc.) paid for. I hope they just charge a high enough fee that those who pay subsidize the rest and no one gets harrassed about it. I was happy to see that the science fee sheet this year asked for donations. I worry about families who scrimp to pay because they don't know there is any ethical and culturally acceptable way around it.
Dorothy Neville said…
RHS tries to be generous with scholarships for Pay to Play and course fees. It could be better, but we are working on it. One source of funds is the Saul Haas Foundation which is run through the school fiscal secretary and the counseling office. Money that the PTSA raises through eScrip goes to Saul Haas, last year that was about $1400.

My recollection is that every field trip and other money form from RHS (and my son's previous schools) all had lines for donations and needs assistance.
seattle said…
"How about the graphing calculators that are $100 - $120 each?!"

Moose, I just bought my son a TI-83 plus (calculator) used but in great condition, on Craigslist for $45. I also saw them on Ebay for about the same price with free shipping.
Josh Hayes said…
Megan, you're absolutely right -- but I've encouraged other parents to do what we do, which is: abuse the HELL out of the loss-leader specials at Staples and Office Max/Depot. Every summer we go out and spend a total of perhaps thirty dollars and bring a dozen reams of paper, a hundred composition books, a hundred spiral notebooks, and more pencils than a classroom of third-grade boys can stick in each other. Plus other stuff. I know that a lot of parents have neither the time nor the money to do this, and I hate that I HAVE to do this, but I do: my school needs supplies.

The idea that differences in fund-raising ability between affluent PTSAs and non-affluent ones make no difference is ludicrous. How many kids from Laurelhurst K-5 struggle to scrape together supplies? How many have to? (I don't mean to paint Laurelhurst as somehow "bad"; it's just that what seems like trivial costs to some schools are anything BUT trivial to others.)
Unknown said…
Geez, people, do you think retirement luncheons and Power Points are free?
dan dempsey said…
MathTeacher42 you are at the end of a chain of lapsed k-8 discipline. Schools are burdened by a false view of "Disproportionality".

RCW 28A 600.020 is not enforced uniformly among the disruptive students if at all.

It is similar to the Math approach. Eight or more years of failed actions in regard to misbehavior make your job next to impossible.

The Math Pass rates at Franklin can hardly be attributed to Franklin high school math teachers' inability to differentiate instruction. How long are we all supposed to follow MJG's fairy-tale solutions.
Moose said…
Great tip, Rabbit. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
InvestEd - formerly Saul & Dayee Haas Foundation - does provide annual grants to most Seattle Middle/High schools every year. These dollars can be maximized by additional donations from parents at each school. You can "adopt-a-school" and specify which school you want to support.
These monies are distributed by school counselors/administrators without any redtape -- all they have to do is ask.
Supporting kids with textbook fees, ASB fees, uniforms etc. helps kids that are at-risk of dropping out to stay in school.
Short of sounding like a commercial - I volunteer for InvestED - I've seen firsthand the difference it can make. I encourage everyone to look into it - whether you are someone that can donate or someone that needs help.

Bird said…
How about the graphing calculators that are $100 - $120 each?! The teacher will allow students to use hers during class time, but to do homework we will have to purchase one. I am appalled at this cost -- it really is a stretch for us and I can't help but wonder what happens to the kids whose families cannot pony up the $ for this item.

Does homework really require a graphing calculator? When I was kid we just used graphing paper and our brains. Is that impossible now?

If you have a computer at home, you can just use free online graphing tools.

Kids shouldn't be required to pay $100+ to take a basic math course.
Maureen said…
Thank you Dorothy and LLS. I'm glad to hear about the work the Haas fund does (I had heard of it but had the mistaken impression that it only paid for expenses related to High School sponsored sports teams.)
Dorothy Neville said…
Yes, Maureen, Saul Haas can do more than that. It seems to be quite varied, at the discretion of the counseling staff within the schools Saul Haas budget. Our fiscal secretary said that with the economic downturn, the money they get from the foundation (I didn't know it had a new name) had gone down.

Our PTSA usually provides a $500 donation to Saul Haas. Now that we have eScrip set up to support it as well, we will probably be donating close to $2,000 a year.
Patrick said…
At our previous elementary school, we had to buy school supplies from a list, including brand names. That way the supplies could be pooled, and kids wouldn't fight over who got what. Sending $30 a year to Jane Addams is both cheaper and easier.
Sahila said…
we are killing our kids... why cant we be innovative and bring in child-driven education? And we dont need expensive graphing calculators to do it....
Unknown said…
Our parent group spent $90,000 to help our K-8 meet its basic budget this year. On top of that we need to have funds to give teachers money to spend in classrooms, to buy art supplies, to provide additional music and other programs, etc. So our total budget is in the $125,000 range. We fund raise (parents only) to reach this goal, and then we also ask parents who can to fund basic school supplies for their kids and others.

The high school PTSA I'm involved with manages to raise about $45,000 per year. While it's a north end school, it has very high Free and Reduced lunch numbers.

I am blessed to be able to give generously to both the schools my kids attend. But at some point, we will reach donor saturation. We just can't keep pushing this onto the few folks who can afford to give generously. Not to mention how inequitable it is for schools who have a higher percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch. They don't have the type of parental pockets that can be dipped into.
swayin said…
And -- in an email from my child's school today (ironically, one telling parents of a music ensemble how much the "uniforms" will cost each of them (my child has one from last year), this:

"I had planned to be in touch with all of you by sending home a syllabus and paper information regarding the [uniforms]. The school has not received its shipment of copy paper yet for the start of the year… no printing has happened for anyone. I hear it is to be here soon. When I have paper to print on I will send ordering information home."

Sounds like I may be hitting up Office Depot tonight for a box of reams of copy paper!
Unknown said…
It feels like the school district is focusing so much on administration, on cirriculum management and on various projects that they are forgetting to supply their classrooms. How much would it cost to supply the classrooms, and how much does it cost to have someone at the Stanford Center make a PowerPoint presentation about the status of the math cirriculum implementation?

We decided to send our kindergarten student to private school. We knew up front that we'd be contributing a lot of time and money to the school, including helping to supply the classroom with pencils and sanitizer and paper towels. I'm happy to pick up an extra pack of paper towels at Costco and bring it in. We know that our school isn't funded by tax dollars from every citizen regardless of whether or not they have kids in school - the only money our school gets comes from the parents and the parish.

But I feel sorry for those public school parents who are barely getting by and who find themselves faced with huge expenses to provide the housekeeping supplies that every classroom needs.

What the hell has happened to education in the last thirty years? Why has so much of the basic cost of teaching shifted from the district onto the teachers and parents?
Swayin, that is a pretty generous first thought to have when you received that e-mail. But that's what I really like about Seattle Public School parents, they're a pretty nice bunch.
MathTeacher42 said…
o.k. ... I've been thinking about this pencil calculator paper thing since I started teaching 7 years ago.

this brain splash came as I was riding my bicycle uphill today.

In general, people don't appreciate stuff they're given as much as stuff they have to put some sweat into.

(pst! "In general" does NOT mean ALL people ALL the time - there are zillions of exceptions to "In general")

Kids in our culture are really really shut off from what it takes to keep the community and the society running. In general, our kids get education to get jobs to get junk - the 'better' the education the 'better' the job the 'better' the junk.

What if ALL kids had to do work at the school for that basic supply kit?

IF there was a direct correlation between hours spent picking up trash around the building AND those pencils, AND that 8 buck calculator that is yours ...

they'd probably only need 6 pencils a year and they definitely wouldn't lose that calculator!

plus, you get rid of 1 of those little pieces of cla$$ one up man ship which feeds nothing useful at school.

Obviously there a zillion ways for such a system to be abused ... yawn. which system with humans in it isn't amenable to abuse?

oh well, back to reality. the first Monday!

Arnold said…
@ Rosie:
My advice is to keep the fundraising alive and well. The District will be facing a 28 million dollar shortfall in the 2011-2012 school year.
dan dempsey said…
So whatever became of the "NEWS" lawsuit victory that will fully fund schools?

Is that headed into Appeals Court?

The verdict was on Feb 3, 2010 in Superior Court.

So what does winning mean?
Arnold said…
Are you referring to the case heading to the Wa. State Supreme Court- stating it is the state's "paramount" duty to "amply" fund public education? It should be heading to the courts this fall, however, considering there are elections- I doubt it will be heard until the winter. Frankly, if I were the state- I wouldn't trust MGJ with a dime..Who would want to give her another nickle?
dw said…
Who do you suppose will be sharpening all 36 of those No.2 pencils?

The Dixon Ticonderoga Company. They sell them pre-sharpened now.
seattle citizen said…
dw, pencils come presharpened?! Who woulda thunk it! They are doing amazing things with technology nowadays!

(but now what excuse will the students have to get up, stretch, walk slooowly to the sharpener whilst looking around to see what's up, then noisily grind away, for way too long, at those infernal hand-cranked sharpeners? Oh, wait, they haven't made them break-proof yet? Dang...)

WV is feeling strawsy. Too much hay in its feed?
Anonymous said…
I've been shocked at the cost of public high school. $20-30 "materials fees" for several classes (that amount for each class), $25 ASB card, $70 yearbook, $170 band camp the first weekend of school, $1200 band trip in the spring, more fees related to band uniforms and such. On the other side of the scale, the supplies lists are short -- pencils, spiral notebooks. No more buying tissues, spray cleaner, whiteboard markers, double-sided tape, antibacterial gel, etc. as we did all through K-8.

And the school and band has been very proactive with how to apply for help paying for all this stuff. I have had the opposite experience from Maureen. There is heavy emphasis on including all kids who want to participate, getting aid to those who need it, and keeping track of each family's fundraising efforts so those who put in the most reap a higher reward.
Thanks for sharing this amazing tip... Keep posting.
Unknown said…
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