Utah families feeling financial burden of school fees

Aug 23, 2022, 8:51 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — The cost of sending children to school can add up from clothing to school supplies. Add on student fees, and it can be a hardship for some families.

A bill that would have helped parents offset school fees didn’t pass this last legislative session. Some families in southern Utah are feeling sticker shock with several of their kids participating in different activities.

Student fees for the Hart kids, who attend Hurricane High School, are adding up.

“Thirty dollars for painting, $30 for ceramics, $85 for choir, $85 for woodworking, student activities (are) $25, drawing classes $30,” Thomas Hart said.

His wife Terisa Hart said it’s frustrating.

“When you have three kids in high school, if they want to do cheer, or football or band you’re paying $1,000 a kid. That’s extremely expensive.”

At Desert Hills High School in St. George, Melissa Polu’s three sons have played football and baseball. They fundraise to cover their fees, and Polu has picked up part-time jobs.

“With baseball, usually you pay everything out of pocket. You’re looking at anywhere from $200-$300 with the district fee and the spirit pack.”

Students who are economically disadvantaged are eligible to receive fee waivers, but the Harts and the Polus don’t fall under that category.

Brent Bills, business administrator for Washington County School District, said there are options, like working off fees.

“I know we have a program where kids can take tickets at other events,” he said. “And that money goes in and pays for their fees.”

Principals could set up a payment plan for families or waive the fee at their discretion on a case-by-case basis.

“They want students to participate. They’re not trying to exclude anybody,” said Barbie Faust, Utah State Board of Education school fees fiscal monitor. “If they don’t qualify, they can ask again and they can also appeal the decision.”

Bills said they scrutinize any fee increases from schools and post spending plans on their website.

“We actually have a pretty in-depth conversation about what’s the reason behind it,” he said. “Is it driven by inflation? Have costs gone up?”

Both families agree kids shouldn’t have to choose an activity based on cost.

“The kids learn through music, they learn through sports,” Hart said. “But when the school’s budget puts them out of reach for most of the families, then it’s harder for our kids to be able to learn and excel at what they’re good at doing.”

“We don’t make a lot of money, but we do have the flexibility of always being there for our boys,” Polu said.

Parents can weigh in on student fees before they’re finalized each year on April 1.

Educators say there are two public meetings where they have a chance to see what’s being proposed and bring up concerns.

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