The 20 fees public schools can legally charge

Throughout the school year, students and parents may occasionally be asked to pay fees or contribute for extras, including field trips. But which of these are permissible under the law and which must be clearly spelled out as voluntary donations?

To answer this question, we reached out to the Orange County Department of Education’s legal counsel.

calculator and dollar bills on spiral notebooks

Let’s begin with a little background.

The California Constitution affirms that students and parents cannot be required to pay money to gain access to educational activities, nor can they be charged for materials and supplies necessary to participate in educational activities.

In fact, Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 signed Assembly Bill 1575, which ended a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state’s alleged failure to prevent school districts from charging impermissible fees. That bill, which became effective in January 2013, codified existing laws and judicial decisions while establishing reasonable enforcement measures for schools and districts.

Yet there are 20 fees, charges and deposits that schools can legally collect, though not all schools or districts will charge these fees. Moreover, the law does allow school districts to ask for voluntary donations and engage in fundraising as long as it is truly voluntary and no student is denied participation for failure to give or raise funds.

Here’s the list of the 20 fees, charges and deposits that are permitted by law for kindergarten through the 12th grade:

1.  Optional attendance as a spectator at a school- or district-sponsored activity. You can read more about this in the landmark Hartzell case (Hartzell, 35 Cal.3d 899, 911, fn. 14).

2.  Food served to students, subject to free and reduced-price meal program eligibility and other restrictions specified in law.

3.  Books or supplies loaned to a student that are not returned or are willfully damaged.

4.  Field trips and excursions or school-related social, educational, cultural, athletic or school band activities, as long as no student is excluded for not paying.

5.  Medical or hospital insurance for field trips made available by the school district.

6.  Required medical and accident insurance for athletic team members, so long as there is a waiver for financial hardship.

7.  Physical education attire of a particular color and design, but it does not need to be purchased from the school and no physical education grade may be affected based on the failure to wear standardized apparel “arising from circumstances beyond the control” of the student.

8.  Parking of vehicles on school grounds.

9.  Rental or lease of personal property needed for district purposes, such as caps and gowns for graduation ceremonies.

10.  School camp programs, so long as no student is denied the opportunity to take part because of nonpayment.

11.  Cost of materials that the student has used to create something for his or her own possession and use, such as wood shop, art or sewing projects kept by the student.

12.  Cost of duplicating public records, student records or a catalogue of the school curriculum.

13.  Transportation to and from school provided there is a waiver provision based on financial need.

14.  Transportation of pupils to places of summer employment.

15.  Tuition fees charged to pupils whose parents are actual and legal residents of an adjacent foreign country or an adjacent state.

16.  Tuition fees collected from foreign students attending a district school pursuant to an F-1 visa.

17.  Optional fingerprinting program for kindergarten or other newly enrolled students.

18.  Community classes in civic, vocational, literacy, health, homemaking and technical and general education.

19.  Deposits for band instruments, music, uniforms and other regalia, which school band members take on excursions to foreign countries.

20.  And eye safety devices for specified courses or activities that are likely to cause injury to the eyes.

For more information on permissible and impermissible fees, including the process for challenging fees in California, visit the state Department of Education’s website.


Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in August 2015.