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Aug 20, 2013 12:07 AM by Zach Thaxton

Cost for 'free' education continues to soar

Public education in the United States is famously "free," but don't tell that to millions of parents across the country who have to shell out hundreds of dollars per student to allow them to participate in everything from Advanced Placement classes, to art and wood shop, to athletics and extracurriculars.

Reduced funding from the state and reluctance on the part of voters to impose taxes on themselves to help fund schools have put districts in a position of imposing fees on students who want to participate beyond the core basics, according to Stephanie Wurtz, spokesperson for Falcon School District 49.  "This is really the new reality, the new operational standard," Wurtz said, "to shift some of the responsibility to families.  Not just here, but across the state."

At Vista Ridge High School, fees include $85 to participate in any sport or marching band, $25 to participate in Student Council, $30 to take ceramics class, and $30 to take Advanced Placement Biology.  "Dating back to about 2008-'09, school districts are experiencing cuts in funding, setbacks in budgets, things like that," Wurtz said.  "We want to provide the best possible whole educational environment for students, and to do that, we have to ask families for a little bit of support."

"I don't have a problem paying fees for extracurricular stuff -- band and sports and things like that," said Joyce Crawford, parent of a Vista Ridge sophomore.  "I do have a problem that we have to pay for core classes."  Another parent, Jenny Carr, says she understands why families are asked to pay.  "I think the money has to come from somewhere and if we're going to support our studens, we should be able to help and support where we can," Carr said.  Fellow parent, Roema Mark, who says she has had to pay $200 to $300 each for the first two of her children at Vista Ridge, also doesn't mind the fees but does worry about families that can't afford them.  "Whether it be lower income or higher income, we all have to cover the costs for each kid and we have to worry about college, and that's another problem right there," Mark said.

Wurtz says D-49 does offer a break for students on the free or reduced lunch program.  Students qualifying for reduced-price meals only have to pay 50 percent of the required fees.  Those qualifying for free meals have all fees waived.  Still, some parents worry that only children from wealthier families that can afford the fees will have access to sports and extracurriculars, arts and music, and advanced coursework.

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