Apr 15, 2009

Ohio needs to eliminate school fees and provide a truly free public education

A movement to eliminate public school fees in Ohio is gaining momentum, and now has the support of a state representative from southern Ohio.
School fees are a longstanding problem in Ohio that create a serious educational barrier for many families. It is common for public schools in Ohio to charge families $25 to $50 per child simply to attend school. Those fees are often in addition to the requirements that students bring in supplies that cost between $10 and $50 per child.
Many Ohio families do not have enough money to meet their own basic needs, and have a nearly impossible time trying to pay the school fees.
Advocates for families have been calling for the fees to be eliminated, and now Rep. Debbie Phillips, who represents the 92nd Ohio House District, is backing the proposal to have the fees eliminated. Phillips is writing an amendment to the state’s education bill, and hopes to gain support for it in the Ohio House. All Ohio residents are asked to contact their state representatives and express their support for this legislation.
Fees charged by schools have become a perfectly legal and acceptable form of taxation, initiated at the hands of the local school boards, with few restrictions. These fees also are an extremely regressive type of tax that hurts those children in families who are already having the greatest challenges succeeding in school.
Now that state leaders are making changes to the school funding system in Ohio, it is the perfect time to eliminate these fees and create a truly free public education system.

Jennifer Pierce, a single mom living in Tuppers Plains, has three children in school and simply can’t pay the fees all at once at the beginning of each school year.
“I just try to pay one at a time,” Pierce said. The school would like her to pay all of the fees right away, but she is allowed to spread out the payments throughout the year.
“They don’t care as long as they get paid by the end of the school year,” Pierce said. If the fees are not paid by the end of the year, the district can hold onto the students’ grade cards, she added.
It’s also expensive paying for all of the school supplies, Pierce said. One year, she had to send in expensive extra supplies such as a roll of film and a package of copy paper, and it was hard to come up with the money.
“Plus, if they play sports, you have to pay for that,” Pierce said. A $50 fee allows students in the district to play sports, but the parents still have to pay for cleats and other items for their children. Most field trips are paid for, but the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. this year cost $500 and was simply out of reach for Pierce’s son.
“He couldn’t go because I didn’t have the money to pay for him to go,” she said.

“I think the schools should be accountable. They should be the ones that have to take care of that,” Coolville resident Tasha Adams said about the school fees. She has two children in school, and has a hard enough time paying all of her monthly expenses.
The school fees average around $20 per child for her family, plus all of the money that is spent on supplies like paper towels and tissues.
“When we were younger, we just needed the notebooks, the pens and pencils, you know certain things like that,” Adams said. Today, though, the schools ask parents to send in items like paper towels, tissues and hand sanitizers.
“I just don’t think that’s right at all,” she said.

Lisa Roberts, who lives in Coolville and runs the Friends and Neighbors Community Food Center in Lottridge, said that school fees are very hard on her clients, and they were also tough on her family.
“I raised six kids and school fees kill you. They are very, very hard to come up with,” Roberts said. Many families can’t put money aside for the fees because they don’t have the extra $35 or more.
“They keep telling your kid over and over, ‘Your school fees haven’t been paid.’ They ask in front of the class,” Roberts said. “It’s horrible for the child and it’s bad for the parent, too, because you’re already feeling bad enough that you can’t come up with the money.”
The teachers do what they can to be nice to the children, but they have to ask for the fees because the schools have to collect them, Roberts said.
“Sometimes they won’t give you your report card if you can’t come up with a school fee,” Roberts said, adding that her children were faced with that problem several times.
“Plus, you have to send all those supplies. (The list of supplies) is enormous. They want you to bring all kinds of stuff,” Roberts said. The list of supplies often includes several boxes of tissues, even though most families she knows can’t afford tissues and just use toilet paper instead, Roberts said.
“You can’t very well send toilet paper in to your teacher,” she added.

One grandmother from Athens County is currently raising three of her grandchildren, and also has a difficult time with the school fees, which cost her $25 per child. She and her husband live on a fixed income, and it is difficult to pay these fees along with other extra costs that come up with children throughout the year.
“I know they need the money, I’m not saying they don’t,” she said. But for families that are just getting by, it is extremely difficult to have to pay these fees, she added.
School pictures can be another big cost during the year, she said, as some packages cost as much as $45. She can’t afford a big package of pictures, and wonders if she will be able to afford any of the pictures next year.

Catherine Hogsett of Glouster lives on a very tight, fixed budget and can’t afford the cost of school supplies each year.
She has a back injury and is unable to work, and lives on $400 a month in child support, along with Food Assistance Program funding. The elementary school her children attend did not charge fees this year, but did ask for supplies, Hogsett said.
“It was over almost $200,” she said about the supplies for her children.
“They had to have reams of paper, they had to have four or five boxes of tissues,” Hogsett said. Her mother helped her pay for the supplies, or she would not have been able to afford them all, Hogsett said. Her son also wants to play baseball this spring, and there is another $25 fee to be on a team, she said.
“I really think that any help that can be given to people, especially people who are on assistance, for education would be beneficial,” Hogsett said. She added that by helping people pay for their educations today, it helps everyone tomorrow as the graduates will be able to get better jobs and bring positive benefits to their communities.

Apr 1, 2009

Director and clients discuss Ohio's public assistance programs

State leaders should focus on basic needs

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, wrote an opinion piece that was published in newspapers around Ohio recently about the crisis facing the state's emergency food network and about what state leaders can to to help people living in poverty. Click here to read Hamler-Fugitt's article, as published in The Athens NEWS.