Paying for Public Education? (by Guest Student Blogger Kelsey Robertson)

NOTE: Kelsey is a student in the Portland State University Capstone titled “Enhancing Youth Literacy.”  This summer, she supported Upward Bound staff and students in nutrition and literature courses.  She has already made a plan to continue her work with Upward Bound in the fall!  Her questions on families having to pay for public education are extremely relevant to local discussions on limited access to free day-long kindergarten programs and school budgets that are so tight that  teachers and families have to bring basic supplies to class that should be provided (paper for photocopying, for example).  Read Kelsey’s words here:

In elementary school, my school always asked families to pay for bits and pieces of our education throughout the school year. Between field trips, extra books, transportation, and school gear, we ended up paying a large amount. I was lucky enough to have parents who could handle the extra costs, but for families already struggling to get by this can be a huge source of stress. Schools argue that the funding isn’t coming from elsewhere, so families should contribute. We have a right to a free, public education. Should K-12 schools be allowed to charge students for some of these ‘extras’ to make up for budget deficits?

The ACLU says no, and has filed a lawsuit against the state of California. Parents are coming out and telling horror stories of amounts contributed, teachers who denounce children whose families are unable to pay, and students falling behind because of the inability to pay for textbooks. Educational inequity is rampant in California, and the expectation that families contribute financially is increasing the gap.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced having to pay for K-12? What about the students you were working with in your capstone placement? What do you think will come of the ACLU lawsuit?



23 thoughts on “Paying for Public Education? (by Guest Student Blogger Kelsey Robertson)

  1. If anyone can remember how the State of Oregon politicians and school administrators promoted the need for gaming in our state, lottery, Slot Machines Etc,. We needed this revenue to support our schools they cried. Now that they have that into law, where’s the money? It sure isn’t supporting schools! Here in Lincoln County kids go 4 days a week, There are no art classes in the schools, nothing to stimulate their minds. In fact in Lincoln County there are over 400 homeless students accounted for, Where’s the gambling money? Not supporting schools as they promised nor the parents struggling to keep their kids in school. Parents should not need to pay a penny for their kids public education, nada.. All the lottery funds should go to schools, give kids an education, we all benefit. No more “Economic Development” that translates into politicians taking over seas vacations, eating in the finest restaurants while kids in grade school don’t have toilet paper or books.

    • Greg: I agree with you. Parents should not have to pay for public schooling for their children. Isnt that why we are paying property taxes for, voted on lottery money, and etc.? Its a shame that politicians dont send their children to public schools so they could see what its like to live in the normal world.

  2. This is a great question, Kelsey. I remember getting school supply lists at the beginning of the school year and going shopping with my parents for everything on the list as well as buying some extras to share with the classroom. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was extremely fortunate to be able to do that and even to have parents who had the time to shop for school supplies with me. While I acknowledge that budgeting for many schools is very limited and under strain, I do believe that a part of that budget should account for these extraneous costs. Many of these additional costs expected of families for school supplies, transportation and field trips are incapable of being paid by many families and their educational experience should not be limited or constrained by their financial inabilities. In order to create a level and even playing field for students of poverty and students of wealth, the expectation of families to provide funding should be eliminated. That doesn’t mean that students will suddenly perform equally as well, because as we know, coming from a middle or upper class family often provides a child with many more educational resources and advantages, however this would eliminate some of the economic disparity and also eliminate the shame and embarrassment often felt by low income families for not being about to provide school supplies or not being able to finance field trips for their children.

    • You both make very good points. I remember back when that a lot of money went out for school at the beginning of the year. “free “education hasn’t been free for awhile. And now w/ all the school financial cuts how do they expect low income families to be able to afford it. That is one thing that’s in favor with some of the charter schools. They save extra money from donations the be able to provide students w/ those extras. Public education should be free.

    • If you want to get more involved, think about donating individually or becoming a donation site for Schoolhouse Supplies ( (a non-profit that donates supplies to kids and teachers) OR to SCRAP, ( another wonderful nonprofit that takes donations of creative materials and runs educational programs emphasizing creative reuse! These are little action steps that would mean a lot to kids and schools. In the bigger picture, use your voice and your knowledge to advocate for FREE public schooling and for stable and adequate funding for all of our community’s public schools!

  3. Kelsey, your questions really got me thinking. Camille also mentions it; I remember getting a school supply list at the beginning of each year that we, as students were required to have purchased for the class. (I’m talking K-6th) I remember you’d buy the supplies, and then the teacher would collect them all from you your first day of class, and you’d never get the one back that you purchased. Then, once I was in middle and high school I was also required to purchase not only school supplies but work books, gym uniforms, “lab fees,” etc. There were also multiple times we’d be asked to donate money to the school for paper products, gym equipment, etc. As you stated above, I too came from a family that was fortunate enough to provide me and some other students with these supplies and fees. What about the children who can’t? I do not think it’s fair to require these extra costs, and then punish a child if they cannot afford it. I understand that because there is such little money for funding of schools, they need the outside support for supplies like these, but for the children to suffer because their families can’t pay from them is sad.

    Zapoura, Thank you for posting a site where we can get involved in the donation process. When I did my six months as Harriet, I noticed how little supplies the girls had, and if they had them, how tattered they were. On my final day I purchased a new binder, two new folders, and a new pack of mechanical pencils for each of my 14 students to send them to their new school with. Although I was only able to provide this to so little students, you could tell it really mattered. Donations are so helpful obviously in situations like this when the students are being hindered. It’s comforting knowing that the ACLU is trying to take action for these students.


    • Kelsey, this is an interesting topic, and one that is apparently becoming a problem among public schools. I also remember having “the list” of school supplies, and of course field trips throughout the year cost more. I understand that most extra events are created by the teacher themselves, which puts some responsibility on the teachers on this issue. What if students got lists specific to the teacher they have that year, and on the list it shows any planned field trips or extras? This might give families more notice that money will be needed; possibly helping families with tighter budgets plan ahead. I’m not quite sure how this issue should be worked out; I understand where both the schools and families are coming from.

      -Kyle A.

      • One of my concerns is not only that students have the basic supplies they need for their learning but that we also offer equitable opportunities to engage in experiences beyond the classroom to gather the cultural capital they’ll need to be on an equal playing field. Learning and opportunity come from knowing reading and math…but they also come from being adaptable within diverse settings, having knowledge of other modes of cultural expression (the arts, sciences, etc.), having a global perspective, etc. In a nutshell, we owe it to students to fund some basic field trips (otherwise known as experiential learning) along with school supplies.

      • I like that idea of advance notice, it would certainly help with budgeting. That may still leave out families living paycheck to paycheck, or below their means. Building off your idea to give a family more notice, since that provides for planning and facilitation it would be nice if there could be alternatives planned for children who could not afford to go on trips.

      • Kyle: Knowing a predicted “extra expense” cost is a great idea. Its not like teacher don’t have a rough idea of what things will cost the year before.

  4. Well, I don’t think it is fair to penalize children if their families cannot afford it, but I would like to ask you a question in response, what is the alternative? If the school has had harsh enough budget cuts to need to require students to buy supplies, what would their class look like with out that? I’ve gone to schools where the community over and over again failed to pass a levy…It was rough. What is the school supposed to do when it doesn’t have money for basic supplies? Fire a couple teachers or janitors–reduce the curriculum? Like Zapoura pointed out those diverse opportunities contribute to your education as a whole. There is an organization you can donate to, called “the Principal’s Checkbook,” it allows the administration to pay for field trips etc. for those who need the additional assistance.

    • Well at least in Oregon the money was supposed to come from the gaming initiative that passed, not another property tax levy. But like all po0liticians what they say they will do with money and what they do once they get the money are just 2 different stories entirely. You know a politicians favorite statement don’t you? ” I don’t recall that”

    • Interesting questions Kaitlyn. I volunteered at an elementary school last year where a lot of the parents were unable to get supplies for their children. What this means for the classroom, is that the teacher foots the bill for a lot of it. This particular teacher was a first-year, and was pretty shocked at the amount of money she had to shell out for basics like scissors, crayons, and gluesticks. I’m fairly certain this is by no means a unique situation. Thanks for including the link! It’s always good to know there are ways to help out.

  5. Kelsey-

    I do not think their is anything wrong with asking families to help contribute if they can and it doesn’t cause a burden. I do not think that children should be punished if their family can not contribute financially. Schools need to be able to provide their children with the basic necessities of an education, if parents can contribute more that is a lucky situation and should be utilized well.

    When I was in elementary school families were in charge of providing their children with school supplies and asked to contribute more if they could afford it. We were not asked to provide our own text book, or any other large expensive supply. No a days school supplies are a long list of expensive items that just seem silly to ask parent to provide. I think textbook, lab tops and whatever else needs to be provided by the school.

  6. In relation to the gambling support- “Oregon invests over six million dollars annually to reduce and/or prevent the negative effects of gambling” ( Though I support the theory of using funds outside of citizen tax dollars to raise money for schools, how much money from gambling really gets to the schools? And is a program that ends up costing the government more money in treatment services (not to mention the other indirect effects, e.g. welfare) the best way to do it? Oregon continually votes down a sales tax supported by the vast majority of U.S. states, but we have a lot of support for legislation to open up another casino in the Portland area, backed with the assertion that this will bring in money for schools. Given the current gambling-school connection, I am a little dubious.

    • Yeah, it sounds like the legislation for a casino in Portland has been glossed over with a shiny paint of “help for local schools.” I respect your dubious suspicion of whether this would actually provide an answer. In one sense, our education system is at an alarming state of underfunded and perhaps gambling could provide relief. However, I’m more inclined to be suspicious as well, and I think it would be dangerous to set a precedent for private funding of schools. Good post.

  7. I have had the experience of paying for school. Back in the old country, we had to pay for school every year even though it was supposed to be free because the teachers weren’t paid enough so we had to pay or else they would fail us on exams.

    I think forcing parents to pay for “public education” kind of defeats the purpose. The whole idea is that not everybody can afford an education. By taxing people and then using that tax to finance education, we are “spreading” the money around, so that everybody can get that education. By making people pay we are defeating that purpose.

    However, you can’t fault the schools for doing that. They are only doing what they can to survive. It’s the whole system at fault. I guess we value national defense and big business more than education so we spend more money on that.

  8. I had not thought about the sum of all the field trips, musical instrument rental fees or supply expenses I incurred through school. I hadn’t noticed a lot of fees on the academic side but it seems to me the extracurricular activities students can engage in have always come with the highest costs. There are added social pressures because students from families with more money can afford expensive protective gear or supplies. Cleats are spendy, even second hand. Offering activities some students can afford when others can’t seems like some kind of defeat of equality in education but maybe fiscal realities make it unavoidable.

    • I remember when field trips were free or a very low cost but now students have to cover their own costs and expenses. That is ridiculous! Imagine a child never going to see a play or even to the museum. Corporate business should be asked to pay and cover some of these extra costs. Its only cost them a strand of hair.

  9. I have a very large problem with families being asked to contribute to “free public education,” however. I don’t entirely think asking some of the parents to contribute to certain things is out of the ordinary, let me explain. If the school has a budget, and in an effort to continue with the education curriculum that exceeds the said budget, then the families will have to contribute in some sort of fashion. In the past, the amount of waste generated by education institutions is humbling, offensive, and very discouraging. So, with an effort to lower the waste generated, and be conservative and useful with supplies, the school should have limits and once they are exceeded, the families will have to contribute.

    I don’t agree though that families should pay for texts, access to fundamentals necessary for their education, including a HEALTHY meal, but it very clear Oregonians would rather have a 0% sales tax, the revenue for their schools. Asking the lottery for money is a respectable question, but an even greater question is; Do we really want gamblers funding our public schools? In my opinion….No. Implementation of an entertainment tax, or an out of state sales tax, while decreasing the burden of income tax, would allow families to have more money available, as well as each individual contribute to the state of Oregon, in an effort to increase the funding for schools.

  10. Paying for the education system is always a touchy subject. I feel that it is truly a double edged sword. I think that nothing in this world is free, but it is not fair to put added pressure on parents, pressure that is often unaccounted for. Many people live by a budget and asking for extra money can be doing anything to the extreme of taking food off the table of some. No parent wants to be the parent to not pay or have to request a “scholarship” for something that is going on in the classroom. However, it is impossible without a change in the budget to expect everything that is desired to be done to be accomplished with the limited supplies and funding limiting the abilities of teachers to do activities without either taking money out of their own pocket or requesting the cost to be assisted to by the parents or the PTA. I think it should be ok for schools to ask for minimal amounts aka less the 50 dollars a year but it should also be made aware that those who can not, will not be discriminated or denounced for their inability to pay. I am a big fan of the middle ground. I think those who can help, will and should help. Those who can not, well they should not be forced to.

  11. I can imagine what other families could be going through. Like you, I was fortunate enough to have a family to help provide for my needs and be able to pay off any school funding that I would acquire – such as the school supplies, trips and etc. But it is a tough call to put more funds on parents when they are already paying for their student’s education through taxes and such. Should schools force parents to pay more for those “extra” supplies? I want to say yes, but within reason. As long as it is just the small things like paper, pencils, craft items, and other minor school room supplies – and not having to “donate” to pay for a new projector, or other larger supplies, and possibly some field trips. The reason why I say for field trips is because the cost to transport and rent out places for the students isn’t really cheap, and that could harm the school’s budget that could be used on other things.

    It is kind of shocking to see that the school is being sued for such conflicts of helping to pay for their own children’s school supplies. I am just use to seeing parents pay for those items to help with the education process. I personally didn’t have to pay, but like I said, my parents help paid for my education and supplies, along with clothing and such. I can realize how expensive these things can get, especially if you have multiple children going to school. I am just curious to see what parents had to pay for this. As for the lawsuit, I am not sure how far it will go, considering I don’t know how much “over-spending” the parents had to do, but I imagine it wouldn’t go too far – but if it does, I can see a lot of parents doing the same around the United State. And if this is the case, I can imagine the schools being hit really hard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s