School Fees Information For Parents/Guardians
The Constitution of the State of California requires that we provide a public education to students free of charge. A student’s right to a free education is for all school/educational activities, whether curricular or extracurricular, and whether a student gets a grade for the activity or class. Subject to certain exceptions, a student’s right to a free public education means that we cannot require you or your students to purchase materials, supplies, equipment, or uniforms for any school activity, nor can we require you or your student to pay security deposits for access, participation, materials, or equipment. Your school may require students to attend a fundraising event; however, if they are unable to raise funds for the event, we cannot prevent students from participating in an educational activity.
The following are specific exceptions to the prohibition on fees, charges, and deposits at the kindergarten through 12th-grade level (some legal provisions related to child care programs and adult education are not listed here). These fees, charges, and deposits are legally permissible because they are specifically permitted by law. (Note: This list is based on legal authorizations, but the inclusion of a permissible fee, charge, or deposit on this list does not necessarily mean that District schools currently assess the fee, charge, or deposit).
A Free Public School System
The California EC, as amended by Assembly Bill (AB) 1575 in 2012, provides that a pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity. “Educational activity” is defined as an activity offered by a school, school district, charter school, or county office of education that constitutes an integral fundamental part of elementary and secondary education, including, but not limited to, curricular and extracurricular activities. “Pupil fee” is defined as a fee, deposit, or charge imposed on pupils, or a pupil’s parents or guardians, including, but not limited to:
- A fee charged to a pupil as a condition for registering for school or classes or as a condition for participation in a class or an extracurricular activity, regardless of whether the class or activity is elective or compulsory or is for credit.
- A security deposit, or other payment, that a pupil is required to make to obtain a lock, locker, book, class apparatus, musical instrument, uniform, or other materials or equipment.
- A purchase that a pupil is required to make to obtain materials, supplies, equipment, or uniforms associated with an educational activity.
All of the following apply to the prohibition on pupil fees described above:
- All supplies, materials, and equipment needed to participate in educational activities shall be provided to pupils free of charge.
- A fee waiver policy shall not make a pupil fee permissible.
- School districts and schools shall not establish a two-tier educational system by requiring a minimal educational standard and also offering a second, higher educational standard that pupils may only obtain through payment of a fee or purchase of additional supplies that the school district or school does not provide.
- A school district or school shall not offer course credit or privileges related to educational activities in exchange for money or donations of goods or services from a pupil or a pupil’s parents or guardians, and a school district or school shall not remove course credit or privileges related to educational activities, or otherwise discriminate against a pupil, because the pupil’s parents or guardians did not or will not provide money or donations of goods or services to the school district or school.
Schools can solicit voluntary donations of funds or property and voluntary participation in fundraising activities.
Fees Authorized by Law
The prohibition on “pupil fees,” as defined above, does not prohibit the imposition of a fee, deposit, or other charges otherwise allowed by law. (Ed. Code, § 49011(e)). The Legislature has passed a number of laws authorizing specific fees. Schools may, but are not required to, charge the following fees:
Materials and equipment
- Reimbursement for the direct cost of materials provided to a pupil for property the pupil has fabricated from such materials to take home for his/her own possession and use, such as wood shop, art, or sewing projects kept by the pupil. (Ed. Code, § 17551.)
- Charges for safety glasses, for a pupil to keep, so long as the school provides them free of charge for use in specified courses or activities involving the use of hazardous substances likely to cause injury to the eyes. (Ed. Code, §§ 32030-32033.)
- Fees for sale or lease of Internet appliances or personal computers to parents for the purpose of providing access to the school district’s educational computer network, at no more than cost, so long as the district provides network access for families who cannot afford it. An Internet appliance is a technological product that allows a person to connect to, or access, an online educational network. The internet appliances and personal computers referred to in this section are deemed supplemental and not an essential part of the school district’s educational program. (Ed. Code, § 17453.1.)
- Fees for transportation to and from school, and transportation between school and regional occupational centers, programs, or classes, as long as (1) the fee does not exceed the statewide average nonsubsidized cost per pupil; (2) there is a waiver provision based on financial need; and (3) fees are not charged to pupils with disabilities whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) includes transportation as a related service necessary for them to receive a free appropriate public education. (Ed. Code, § 39807.5(b), (d), and (f).)
- Fees for transportation of pupils to and from their places of summer employment in connection with any summer employment program for youth. (Ed. Code, § 39837.)
- Fees for all or part of the cost of transportation for adult students. (Ed. Code, § 39801.5.)
- Charges for food served to pupils, subject to free and reduced price meal program eligibility and other restrictions specified in law. (Ed. Code, §§ 38082 and 38084.)
Lost or Damaged Property
- Payment for the replacement cost for district books, supplies, or property loaned to a pupil that the pupil fails to return, or that are willfully cut, defaced, or otherwise injured, up to an amount not to exceed $10,000, adjusted annually for inflation. (Ed. Code, §§ 19911 and 48904.) Based on rules of construction, it appears that the word “willfully” modifies each of the phrases—“cuts, defaces, or otherwise injures”—that follows. Therefore, school districts should analyze, on a case-by-case basis, whether property has been willfully damaged. A blanket policy that charges fees for any damage to property would appear to be inconsistent with the statute.
- Fees for field trips and excursions in connection with courses of instruction or school-related social, educational, cultural, athletic, or school band activities so long as no pupil is prevented from making the field trip or excursion because of lack of sufficient funds. (Ed. Code, § 35330(b).) 1
- Medical or hospital insurance for field trips that is made available by the school district. (Ed. Code, § 35331(b)(2).)
- Deposits for school band instruments, music, uniforms, and other regalia for use on an excursion to a foreign country. (Ed. Code, § 38120.)
Athletic Team Insurance
- Charges for required medical and accident insurance for athletic team members that are not paid by school district or student body funds, so long as there is a waiver for financial hardship. (Ed. Code, §§ 32220-32224.)
- Tuition fees charged to pupils whose parents are actual and legal residents of an adjacent foreign country or an adjacent state. The pupils may be admitted to a school but shall be required to reimburse the district for the cost of educating the pupil. (Ed. Code, §§ 48050 and 48052.)
- Tuition fees may be collected from foreign students attending a district school pursuant to an F-1 visa, equal to the full unsubsidized per capita cost of providing education during the period of attendance. (8 U.S.C. § 1184(m)(1).)
School Camp Programs
- Fees for outdoor science school camp programs, so long as no pupil is denied the opportunity to participate because of non-payment of the fee. (Ed. Code, § 35335.)
Child Care and Development
- Fees for child care and development services, except that no fees shall be assessed to students enrolled in the program for severely disabled children as stated in EC section 8250(d), or the part-day California State Preschool Program as stated in EC 8273.1(e), or families receiving CalWORKS cash aid as stated in EC 8273.1(d). Fees for full-day state preschool, except that no family fees shall be assessed to students placed in state preschool by an IEP or families receiving CalWORKS cash aid. (Ed. Code, §§ 8239, 8250(d)(3), 8265, 8447(f), 56000.) Fees for supervision of children before and after school, except that no child who desires to participate shall be denied the opportunity to participate because of inability to pay the fee. (Ed. Code, §§ 8487 and 8488.)
- Fees for an optional fingerprint program for children in kindergarten or other newly enrolled children if the fee does not exceed the actual costs associated with the program. (Ed. Code, § 32390.)
Duplication of Records
- Fees for the actual cost of duplicating public records, pupil records, or a prospectus of the school curriculum. (Gov. Code, § 6253(b); Ed. Code §§ 49063(h) and 49091.14.) However, no charge shall be made for furnishing up to two transcripts of former pupils’ records or up to two verifications of various records of former pupils. (Ed. Code § 49065.) Finally, if the cost would effectively prevent the parent of a special education pupil from exercising the right to receive copies of pupil records, the copies shall be reproduced at no cost. (Ed. Code, § 56504.)
- Fees for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Diploma examinations for college credit, so long as (1) taking the exam is not a course requirement and (2) the exam results have no impact on a pupil’s grade or credit in a course. An LEA may fund all or part of the cost of the AP test fee for an economically disadvantaged pupil or the IB test fee for a pupil in need of financial assistance. (Ed. Code, §§ 52242; 52922.)
After School Programs
- Fees for After School Education and Safety Programs, so long as any such fees are waived or reduced for pupils who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and no fee is charged for a child known by the program to be a homeless youth or in foster care. (Ed. Code, § 8482.6)
LEAs may offer summer school but it is not required. (EC 35160) If a LEA chooses to offer a summer school program, it cannot charge tuition or other pupil fees. (EC 49011, 5 CCR Section 350). A longstanding opinion of the Attorney General states that a school may not charge a fee for attendance in summer school. (Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. Number NS 2469 (1940)).
As noted above, the prohibition on pupil fees extends only to educational activities that are “offered by [a LEA]” and that constitute an integral fundamental part of education. (emphasis added) (EC 49010(a)). Questions have arisen as to whether a third party that is affiliated in some way with a LEA can lawfully charge tuition fees for a summer school program. Stated another way, is a summer school program that is provided by such a third party deemed to be “offered” by the LEA under the law?
Any such allegation that such summer school tuition fees are impermissible pupil fees is a proper subject for a UCP pupil fees complaint. When investigating such a complaint, the LEA should make an individualized inquiry as to the relationship between the LEA and the third party, and the students, based on a variety of factors to determine whether the educational activities are being offered by the LEA.
Factors that can be weighed in determining if the LEA is offering the educational activities may include, but are not limited to:
(1) the organizational structure of the third party, such as whether it is a separate legal entity and the degree of independence from the LEA;
(2) the relationship between the third party and the LEA, such as the composition of the third party’s governing body and leadership and its relationship to the LEA;
(3) the content of any Memorandum of Understanding or other written agreement between the parties regarding the use of facilities, equipment and materials, including any payment of fees by the third party to the LEA for that use;
(4) the entity responsible for communicating about the summer school program to students, parent and guardians and how that responsibility is communicated to parents;
(5) what student population is eligible to participate, such as whether the program is open to students attending non-LEA schools;
(6) responsibility for choosing courses to be taught;
(7) responsibility for registration;
(8) responsibility for scheduling;
(9) responsibility for collecting fees from enrolled students;
(8) responsibility for hiring, supervision and payment of summer school staff;
(9) responsibility and procedure for awarding and/or transferring course credit; and
(10) other factors.