Public schools are supposed to be free. Yet reviews by both the Virginia Department of Education and JustChildren reveal that most schools charge many kinds of fees for various services, materials, and activities. Most schools do not have comprehensive policies on permitted fees or waivers for low-income students, and many of the fees being charged may be unlawful.
Although many families probably feel that fees are a small price to pay for the high quality educational program provided by our public schools, for some, fees present a real hardship and may even prevent students from participating in some activities. Indeed, some schools have policies that prevent students who have not paid mandatory fees from participating in field trips, extra-curricular activities, or graduation ceremonies.
The regulations on permitted fees and charges have not been reviewed or revised since 1980. As schools face increasing pressure to produce graduates ready to compete in a global workforce without corresponding increases in support from the state, the pressure to pass on costs will only grow. These regulations are of constitutional importance and, given the proliferation of required fees, there is a real need for clarity.
Please revise the regulations to ensure the schools have uniform policies on permitted fees and charges that conform to the constitutional requirement that all services, materials, and activities required for courses and other essential elements of the educational experience (e.g., graduation) be provided free of charge.
Please also consider the educational benefits of many non-mandatory activities (e.g., sports, summer school) and whether it might be appropriate to require schools to have waiver policies designed to prevent students experiencing financial hardship from being excluded from those activities.
Thank you for your consideration,