School Fees aka Book Fees

July 24, 2010 at 10:03 am 21 comments

One new way that schools are raising a little extra money is through an annual fee.  It’s called a school fee, student fee, or book fee.
Well, this seems relatively new in Chicago, but it seems to be pretty standard in the suburban world (meaning the entire country’s suburbs, not just ours.)

The concept is that the school needs to buy disposable materials every year for the students and that the families need to cover that cost.

My son’s school just sent out a matter of fact letter that the fee will be $100.  Ouch!   That kind of hurts coming off buying what is usually $60+ in school supplies, new backback and lunchbox, clothes.  All the random toys I buy my son when we’re out shopping for the aforementioned items.  (Although wait, am I the same mom who shelled out $8K per year for Montessori preschool and now I’m screaming about a $100 fee!?)

One thing that interests/amuses me about the $100 fee is that when I was on the LSC at my neighborhood school last year we decided to add a school fee to cover all the one-time-usage workbooks that must be purchased every year (btw, this is a scam perpetuated by the education publishing companies who use it as their cash cow.)  Oh, the debate that took place.  We truly spent hours discussing whether the school feel would freak people out, offend them, make families feel self conscious if they couldn’t pay it, discussed the wording, offered a volunteer option instead (time vs money.)  We had an interesting discussion about what % of families would pay different dollar amounts?  (Do you get more people paying if you go with $40 rather than $50?  Which would generate the most total $?)   What about families with 3+ kids? It was an interesting discussion about the psychology of pricing, family pride, fairness, etc.

We called other local schools to inquire about their school fees.  They ranged from $25 – $100.  Of course the fee can in no way be required.  It is just “suggested.”  And collection probably depends on whether someone has the time to remind/hound/guilt people into paying.  The clerk at (I think) Decatur told me she makes it her mission and gets 95% compliance.  Impressive!

In the end, my local school went with a sliding scale with a volunteer option and wording to make you feel like you were still a good person if you couldn’t pay.  That’s why it humors me a bit that my son’s school just dropped the $100 fee on us without (seemingly) the blink of any eye.    I think it’s a good tactic though.  The school is in Tier 4 and I think people whose kids get into the gifted programs can be expected to shell out $100 per year.  And it won’t come close to what the school is losing in funding this year, due to the loss of lower income students.

But yes, I will still grumble the day I write that check.

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21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Great Idea!  |  July 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I am in favor of book fees that are reasonable. Comsumable workbooks eat up a lot of a schools budget. My second grader looks like he had 4, which probacly cost around $40. Imagine $40 X 29 students for one classroom! That’s a lot of money. At my son’s SE elementary we do not have a book fee, which as an LSC member I plan to see if they would like to implement a modest fee with a reduction of $5 for multiple children. So if the fee is $30 and you have twins a parent would pay $30 for one and $25 for the other. At my other son’s magnet school our fee is $50 (and at the neighborhood school he attended prior to the magnet the fee ranged from $30-$40 depending on grade level). However, Obsessed I think your school is overcharging to compensate for those who won’t pay.

  • 2. SEN  |  July 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I have not gotten the letter about the $100 yet, but my other child’s neighborhood school did send the letter for the $40 fee. FYI, the local catholic school has a $275 book fee, even for kindergarten!!

  • 3. Leigh  |  July 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I attended the LSC meeting in which the $100 fee was discussed and approved (as an observer, not participant.) I wouldn’t say that the fee was approved “without the blink of an eye.” I was actually rather impressed by how much time the LSC members spent discussing / debating the issue. And there were one or two objectors. I think they took this pretty seriously –especially given the fact that the rest of the meeting revolved around the (then) issue of raising money for full-day K. The fee of $100 doesn’t seem so stiff after being asked to donate 2K for K!! (Much of which…ahem…I am hoping to get back now that the State has coughed up some extra bucks…)

  • 4. Worry Wart  |  July 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I remember my parents paying school fees back when I was in elementary and high school. I don’t remember what the fee was called back then but I thought school fees were the norm.

  • […] will ever see their sons successfully enter into the mainstream of the American economy… School Fees aka Book Fees « CPS Obsessed:  We called other local schools to inquire about their school fees. They ranged from $25 – […]

  • 6. mom  |  July 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    just curious why you “think people whose kids get into the gifted programs can be expected to shell out $100 per year” – just not sure why you are differentiating between students in these programs and neighborhood students?

  • 7. Momof2  |  July 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    What bothers me is that there are many CPS schools who do not have a ‘book fee’. What I would like to know is if the students at my child’s school receive educational materials that those schools don’t. I suspect that we are getting charged a fee because they know most of the parents will pay it. Who pays for these materials at other schools? I wouldn’t have an issue with it if it were the same for everyone. The way it is now it seems like a distribution of wealth.

  • 8. momof4  |  July 28, 2010 at 8:38 am

    We have been paying consumable fees for years at our neighborhood school. The upcoming school year fee is $65 per child. What drives me nuts is that these so-called educational resources are returned at the end of the school year mostly unused. Pages and pages of their workbooks for which we wrote a check are not completed. Someone please tell what am I paying for?

  • 9. Amy Campbell  |  July 28, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I am in Indiana but have only lived here for 3 1/2 years. I grew up in Az. where there were no book/school fees for public schools. The concept is lost on me. I have a friend in a Township district who is looking at over $400 in book fees between her two elementary school children. OVER $400!! That’s insane! My children both went to private school last year where the book fees are included in tuition but this coming year my oldest will be attending public school and I will be able to see the bill for the book fees. Maybe in your area they are “suggested” but here they are REQUIRED and if you don’t pay they send the bill to collections and it does go on your credit report. These fees are not reasonable. They’re not 50-65 bucks. We’re talking hundreds of dollars a year per child. It’s ridiculous! There has to be another way. Not to mention all of the paper waste from these “disposable books”! Whatever happened to making xerox copies (each child could provide a reem of paper for the year) or making overhead projector slides? Whatever happened to laminating so the worksheets could be reused? Several of us local moms are trying to research a way to change this “rule”. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

  • 10. momof4  |  July 28, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    My child attends a SE high school. Take a look at this:
    Activity Fee – $260
    Tech Fee – $110
    Department/Materials Fee – $125
    The above are mandatory. Fee waivers are available to kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

    Other fees that may or may not be included, depending on the student’s “needs”:
    Band/Orchestra – $50
    Locks – $5-$10
    Yearbook – $40
    Parking Permit – $175
    CTA Pass – $5
    PSAT/NMSQT – $15
    AP Exam fee – $100

    My bill is $660. Public education is not free! We do not meet the requirement for a waiver. Nonetheless, it’s a big hit for my family.

  • 11. RL Julia  |  July 29, 2010 at 10:03 am

    My kid’s school is implementing a “book fee” this coming year. We did it in part because other schools were and because sometime last year, CPS central office started charging the school (all schools) are flat fee per computer for the priveledge of linking into the CPS network (and no you can’t get around this apparently)that has become quite an expense. We are using the fee in the following way: technology fee that covers CPS internet usage fee, computer and printer maintenance, printer ink and paper and a communication fee that covers the student directories/ handbooks, and other paper communications.

  • 12. donna  |  July 29, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    I live in suburbia where fees are the norm. I just paid over $300 in fees for 2 grade school children. I also had to pay and ADDITIONAL $330 in transportation fees, as the bus service is no longer free. I would have them walk, but there are not sidewalks the entire distance. I teach in chicago and am constantly amazed at how much we spend in consumables and not charge fees. If parents can shell out for Nikes, they can shell out for workbooks.

  • 13. dazed and confused  |  July 30, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Decatur- $125. No mention of it being voluntary.
    I will speak of the Skinner West experience last year. I think the fee was $100 with $40 going to K graduation. They used workbooks and by the end of the year they were completely used. They even bought some of the books from a second hand source since they were cheaper but some pages were torn out so they copied them for some of the kids. say what you will about waste but Skinner West definitely used their book fee well and got the best bang for their buck. hoping that all the schools are more frugal with that money. while i know my taxes are making the school “free” it’s still not the the private school hit so i’ll pay my $125 and consider myself lucky.

  • 14. waiting  |  August 2, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Our neighborhood CPS does not have school fees which I found amazing as I am so used to paying school fees since kindergarten at Decatur for my first child. I would much rather pay the fee and have the appropriate workbooks and other misc. things taken care of early on than to wonder if no school fees means less things available to my other child at our local neighborhood CPS. I wished the fees were universal at all schools (neighborhood, selective schools, and magnet schools). I think the school fee is reduced or eliminated at Decatur if a child qualifies for free/reduced lunch based on financial need. Don’t quote me on that, though. I do remember hearing something about less or no fee for those in financial need in the past year. I don’t know what the word is for this upcoming school year.

  • 15. Momof5  |  August 4, 2010 at 12:15 am

    (1) You will be able to write a check for your fee?! Not allowed at our school – cash or money order ONLY. 🙂
    (2) Our fee is $50/student (at least it was the last 2 years….). There are penalties for not paying, but cannot recall what they are…not being given final report card and not graduating/walking across the stage with your class if you are in 8th grade seem to be standing out in the corners of my mind……
    (3) I don’t mind this fee, even if it increases this year. The local parochial schools charge much more for their “consumables” fee.

  • 16. Natalie  |  August 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Momof2: you raise some very legit questions, and as a teacher at one of those schools that does not have the fee, I can tell you that no, we do not have the same resources. 96% of our kids qualify for free lunch, so there is no way we’d be able to collect a $40 fee. We have a hard enough time getting parents to pay $10 to cover an agenda and an ID. So when it comes to workbooks… we just don’t have them. Or the teachers buy them if they really want them. Or we make copies from sample materials we have.

  • 17. Natalie  |  August 10, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Momof2: you raise some very legit questions, and as a teacher at one of those schools that does not have a big fee, I can tell you that no, we do not have the same resources. 96% of our kids qualify for free lunch, so there is no way we’d be able to collect even a $40 fee. We have a hard enough time getting parents to pay $10 to cover an agenda and an ID. I often pay the $3 for a student who can’t afford even that much to go on a field trip. So when it comes to workbooks… we just don’t have them. Or the teachers buy them if they really want them. Or we make copies from sample materials we have. $100 seems extreme, but knowing how tight school budgets are, once my son starts school, I will willingly pay a fee if I know what it’s going for.

  • 18. Hawthorne mom  |  August 10, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    There was just something on Catalyst Chicago that talked about the possibility that might be illegal for school districts to require a fee from anyone. Worth a search.
    Personally, I think fees are needed. My classroom wouldn’t have had pencils or toilet paper or basically anything if I didn’t buy things. I am annoyed that the federal government limits teachers to a $250 deduction per year. Are you kidding me?! $250 was what I spent a month, not per year. If parents truly can’t afford the fee, the government needs to step in and stop expecting its teachers to subsidize education for the poor. It might be hard to imagine for folks whose children are in wealthier north side schools or the few better off south or west side schools, but really, in terms of supplies, most of CPS is like teaching in a third world country.

  • 19. @Hawthorne Mom  |  August 11, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    School fees are only illegal when you make them mandatory and give out some sort of punishment (i.e not allowing a child to participate in extra-curricular activities, withholding report cards, not letting them particpate in graduation activities, etc.). I couldn’t agree with you more regarding high poverty schools and the amounts teachers shell out so their classrooms can even function on a basic level. My mom, a retired teacher, bought winter coats, gloves, hats and mittens for some of her students and this doesn’t even include the school supplies and bookbags she purchased. I even remember using my own allowance to buy one of her students toys for Christmas because one of her students said Santa always forgets to come to their house! At that time my mom and dad were struggling to put three children through catholic schools. It amazes me when people call for teachers to take pay cuts and believe it or not they already take pay cuts in the form of providing basic essentials out of their pockets for their students!

  • 20. chuck  |  August 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I’m new to Indiana and have kids in public school. I pay $200 per kid to “rent” their textbooks. wtf!? I even attended a town hall with my local state senator and brought it up. Of course he mentioned the affordablity issue. Come on. Every other state I’ve lived in (VA, NC, AZ, WA) seems to be able to pay for kids’ textbooks. We can afford what we value most (football stadiums, jails, low taxes, public transportation).

  • 21. Lane  |  April 19, 2016 at 12:42 am

    This is a very old conversation, but I find it unreasonable. Is it better to pay a $100 annual fee for books, or is it better to pay 500 for books? In some countries, kids need to buy their own books, and yes the education is free but it doesn’t mean the books are free. In the USA the fee is less than what people pay for books in other countries, and all of you still complain. Books cost a lot of money, and publishes run a scam that states cannot stop. The fee could have been just $50 if publishers didn’t change books as much, but the $100 fee it’s still much better than the original fee.
    Yearbook, busses, instruments, art supplies, field trips cost as well. Just be happy that you have the money as well as the kids you can spend the money on. And don’t tell your kids about how you hate to spend money on their school, because they will remember, and they might have anxiety about spending money on some valuable things.

    Also, I can’t believe teachers are paying for art supplies and other classroom things. That’s not reasonable. I think that parents know teachers will buy these that’s why they don’t bother. Teachers/Schools must give parents a list of supplies kids should bring to class. Teachers could also tell students to respect the supplies they can use in class, and reuse them the very next year instead of buying thousands worth of supplies every year. It’s tough, I know, but children must learn to respect their tools. If someone doesn’t bring their crayons to class, then give them a used box. They will still have the tools, but they will learn to bring their stuff if they want to have nice tools.

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