Fee Reminders (August 2019 School Leader Update)
Every school year we get questions about fees so it seems fitting to provide a reminder of what fees are acceptable and what fees are not. First and foremost to remember, there is no such thing as a “registration fee,” so avoid using that term!!! School districts shall not have the power to ..."Charge elementary and secondary students or the students' families a mandatory fee except as expressly authorized by the General Assembly."
Thus, the allowable fees expressly authorized in Iowa Code are:
- School supplies
- Summer school programs
- Driver education programs
- Transportation fees for resident students who are not otherwise entitled to free transportation
- Eye protective devices
- Ear protective devices
- School meals
- Nonresident student tuition
Iowa Code states that the board of directors of the school district is authorized and empowered to contract for and buy books and any and all other necessary school supplies at contract prices, and to sell those books and supplies to their students at cost, loan the textbooks to their students free, or rent the textbooks to their students at a reasonable fee as set by the board.
Iowa Attorney General opinions regarding fees
- A school district may not assess fees for items which are necessary or essential to the instruction of a class unless such a fee is specifically authorized by the Code; however, a district may assess fees for school supplies which represent the cost of the item or a reasonable rental fee. The cost of items which are necessary or essential to the instruction of a class must be properly characterized as tuition rather than school supplies. Examples are art supplies for art classes and chemicals for science classes. In contrast, pens and paper used by students to take notes would be properly characterized as school supplies (OAG #93-7-3(L)).
- All facilities, supplies, and other items which are necessary or essential to instruction must be provided free of charge [except as expressly allowed by Code] in a tuition-free school which is required by law. A school district may purchase other supplies and distribute them to students, but they must be provided for free, rented for a reasonable fee, or sold at cost (OAG #79-12-22).
- Public schools may not charge fees for courses offered as part of their educational program [except as expressly allowed by Code] as such fees constitute tuition. Schools may not charge fees for extracurricular activities as no express or necessarily implied statutory authority exists for such fees (OAG #81-8-29).
- Restrictions on fees related to school supplies are equally applicable to lists of class supplies given to parents to provide. If the school district would not have been allowed by law to charge students a fee for the item, then the district cannot require the parents to provide those items either. Those items, which are necessary or essential to the instruction of a class, must be provided by the district. Examples: paints, crayons, art erasers, scissors, clay or similar supplies used for art instruction.
- Parents cannot be required to provide district or classroom supplies. These are the responsibility of the district to provide. Examples: disinfecting wipes and other cleaning supplies, Band-Aids, handheld calculators required for a class, dry erase markers, hi-liters, multiple rolls of scotch tape, multiple bottles of glue, boxes of plastic bags, paper towels, etc.
- Allowable school supplies provided by students or their parents remain the property of those students providing the supplies and do not become general classroom supplies. Examples: pencils or other markers used in place of pencils, colors, notebooks, boxes of tissues, folders, backpacks or school bags, etc.
Fee waivers, full and partial, are governed by 281--Iowa Administrative Code 18. A full waiver of all fees shall be granted if the student or the student’s family meets the financial eligibility criteria for free meals, for the Family Investment Program (FIP), for transportation assistance under open enrollment, or if the student is in foster care.
A partial waiver is appropriate if the student or student’s family meets the financial eligibility criteria for reduced-price meals, and is based on “a sliding scale related to an ability to pay.” One simple way to justify the amount of a partial waiver is to make sure that it corresponds to the percentage of the reduced-price meal from full-price meal.
Finally, each school district has discretion to grant a temporary waiver of one or more fees in the event of a temporary financial difficulty in the student’s immediate family. This temporary waiver may be granted at any time during a school year; the maximum length of a temporary waiver shall be one year.