In order to produce the podcast and keep content up free for you, I work with partners so this post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure for more info.

Public school is “…maintained at public expense for the education of the children of a community or district and that constitutes a part of a system of free public education commonly including primary and secondary schools” according to the dictionary. That sounds great, but if the schools are free why are parents paying so many fees?

The fees are nothing new. As a military family we moved a lot when I was growing up. I remember one school district charged fees to rent the textbooks. But there is a perception that there are more as a result of the poor economy.

We're not talking about costs for extras like yearbooks and prom, but rather items that we expect to be included.


The school district we lived in while our kids were growing up didn't provide buses to school after grade school. We either had to drive them or pay for public buses.

Having to buy a bus pass every month was a hassle and additional expense but the high school was about 10 miles away. It was all a matter of geography because the school district next to us provided buses through 12th grade.

Lab, Technology and Instruction

Science and technology classes require supplies and/or equipment that the typical class does not. Some schools are now passing these higher costs to the students or to be more precise, their parents. Many of these classes are required for students wanting to continue on to universities.

Advanced placement courses, which didn't exist all that long ago, are also bringing in revenue at some schools.

Sports and Extra-Curricular Activities

Students may need more than skill or drive to participate in school sports now. All it used to cost was the price of the physical. Now many schools charge athletic fees which range from $35 to $200 per sport.

Then there is band, cheer-leading, clubs and more activities that also have, you guessed it, fees. Even graduation can have a $30 or higher fee!

One family mentioned in a recent article spent over $4,000 in fees for their four kids to participate in sports, band, classes and activities. This is on top of the property taxes paid that is dedicated to pay for public education.

I understand why the schools are adding costs here and there. Their budgets have been cut by states, cities and counties that have vastly decreased tax revenues. They're trying to figure out how to provide the same services with less money.

That doesn't make it right. Public school should be free; that's the promise we've always had in this country. What's your opinion on public school fees?

About Kay Lynn

To be sure not to miss any Bucksome Boomer's Journey to Retirement updates subscribe via RSS reader or by Email.

Feel free to chat with me on twitter.

12 comments add your comment

  1. I teach in public schools. People have more respect for things they pay for versus receive for free. I am not advocating charging fees because it will fall on the poorest students and families. I taught at a Title 1 (Federal program for economically disadvantaged families) high school. They received free breakfast and lunch, but many did not eat it. Instead they would buy chips and soda from fellow students. Since students did not pay for the food, they did not care. The school does not change because the food is funded by the government. This is an example of bad management, but circumstances does not discourage it.

  2. I dont mind paying public school fees, as long as the money wasnt being wasted. You’ll either pay for the bus service in fees, or they will increase your taxes – the money for the bus has to come from somewhere.

  3. I have worked in public schools and also raised my children in public schools so I have seen both sides of the equation as a tax paying parent and an employee whose salary was paid by those taxes.

    Currently we live in an area that saw phenomenal growth over the past 10 years. Our little town went from approx. 4000 residents to over 23,000. Of course many of those residents are children requiring education. In the past ten years, 8 new schools have been built in our area and each of those still has to have portable classrooms to accommodate all these new kids. I read somewhere that it costs about $23,000 per student to build these new schools. And that does not include buying books and computers, paying teachers and support staff, or the light bills and other recurring expenses.

    When you consider that property taxes in our area typically range from around $1,000 to $5,000 per year (not all of which goes to the schools) and the average household has 2 children, it is obvious that your tax dollars are not going to come close to paying for your child’s “free” education. I think people who say “I pay my taxes. Why do I have to pay all these fees?” should do a little math to figure out just how far those tax dollars go. Where does the rest of the money needed to educate these kids come from?

    Schools really have no choice but to charge fees for all of the “extras” because they are mandated to provide things like aides for handicapped kids and free lunches for low income kids. Anything that is not mandated by the state or the school board is subject to being cut because there just isn’t enough money to pay for everything.

    Personally, I feel that it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure my child has the best education – NOT the school or the government. We are blessed – not entitled – to have a decent education system here in the U.S. And if I have to pay a fee so she can enjoy “extras” like sports or music, then that should also be my responsibility, not my fellow tax payers. So school fees do make sense to me, even though I don’t like paying them.

    There is certainly plenty of room for improvement in our education system, but I think many people from other countries would be incredibly grateful to have what we take for granted and complain about.

  4. I plan on sending my kids to public school, and I don’t mind paying the fees associated with it. I just want to make sure that the money is being spent how they say it will be.

    • Brianna, I think most parents don’t object because they want their kids to have access. Maybe it was just surprising to me because it seems like a lot of fees for something that’s “free”.

  5. As a non-parent, whenever I talk with my friend who has a child in school I am always amazed at how much she has to contribute. I am not saying it is right or wrong, it is just a shock for me (perhaps when I have kids I will not be so shocked with the extra costs:)).

    • I’m surprised when I hear what they have to pay for now that my kids have been out for a while. I think you get used to it while you’re in the school years.

  6. So school budgets have been cut and fees shouldn’t be assessed … so the schools should cut all of those programs?

    If the schools cut the programs and you want your kid to participate, then you’ll need to find a similar service available in the community … and you’ll need to pay a fee to enroll them. And it won’t be conveniently located at their school.

    • Good point. My concern is that public school educations aren’t really going to be equal for all students. Kids that have parents that can pay may have a bigger advantage and richer education than those without.

  7. In my school district, I believe we also have to pay for instrument rentals, etc. I don’t mind paying because, honestly, it’s still cheaper than the cost of private school. I am a huge proponent of public schools and will pay what I need to in order to ensure that my child gets as good of an education as possible.

    • Jana, I forgot about instruments. Kids have always had to provide those (even in my day) but I think the school had extras for those that didn’t have means.