Every few years I get asked if a public school can assess a fee to all students for some worthy purpose or another. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we charged all students $10.00 a year, and then we could buy all the computer paper we need for the computer labs.” “Wouldn’t it be nice if we charged all the high school students $10.00 a year and then we would have the funds to put on a really great ‘Project Graduation’ for them when they graduate.” While it might be nice, it isn’t legal. “WHAT?” You may say, “So and such district did it” or “but I’m sure that I was charged a fee when I was a kid.” That may well be, but the law in Arizona has evolved and changed over the years and the result today is that students in Arizona K-12 public schools cannot be charged a fee to attend publicly funded schools.
In 1994, C. Diane Bishop, the then Arizona Superintendent of Schools, “requested ‘guidance’ concerning complaints that the Department of Education received from parents and guardians ‘regarding the legality of school districts assessing certain student fees.’” Ms. Bishop explained that one board had approved a $35.00 “activity fee” for junior high students and a $50.00 fee for high school students; another charged all students a $10.00 “student service fee” and still another expected each student to pay a $2.00 “student I.D. fee.” In Op. Atty. Gen. I94-004 (R94-33), the Attorney General held that a governing board cannot charge students fees unless the fees are authorized by statute. This is further supported by the Arizona Courts, which have long held that school boards have “only the authority granted to them by statute.” School District No. 1 v. Lohr, 17 Ariz. App. 438, 439, 498 P.2d. 512, 513 (1972). In addition, Article 11, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution provides in part, “The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.”
The Arizona legislature has provided for several fees that may lawfully be charged to School District students. Some examples are:
A.R.S. §15-342 (19). The governing board may prescribe policies for the assessment of reasonable fees for students to use district-provided parking facilities. The fees are to be applied by the district solely against costs incurred in operating or securing the parking facilities. Any policy adopted by the governing board pursuant to this paragraph shall include a fee waiver provision in appropriate cases of need or economic hardship.
A.R.S. §15-342 (24). The governing board may for common and high school pupils, assess reasonable fees for optional extracurricular activities and programs conducted when the common or high school is not in session, except that no fees shall be charged for pupils’ access to or use of computers or related materials. For high school pupils, the governing board may assess reasonable fees for fine arts and vocational education courses and for optional services, equipment and materials offered to the pupils beyond those required to successfully complete the basic requirements of any other course, except that no fees shall be charged for pupils’ access to or use of computers or related materials. Fees assessed pursuant to this paragraph shall be adopted at a public meeting after notice has been given to all parents of pupils enrolled at schools in the district and shall not exceed the actual costs of the activities, programs, services, equipment or materials. The governing board shall authorize principals to waive the assessment of all or part of a fee assessed pursuant to this paragraph if it creates an economic hardship for a pupil. For the purposes of this paragraph, “extracurricular activity” means any optional, noncredit, educational or recreational activity that supplements the education program of the school, whether offered before, during or after regular school hours.
A.R.S. §15-724 (B). The governing board may charge a reasonable rental fee for the use of nonrequired textbooks, nonrelated subject matter materials and supplementary books by registered high school pupils.
A.R.S. §15-727. The school districts shall hold pupils using the textbooks, subject matter materials, supplementary books and instructional computer software responsible for damage or loss of the textbooks, subject matter materials, supplementary books and instructional computer software. If a pupil for any reason requires a second copy of a textbook, subject matter materials or a supplementary book, the pupil shall reimburse the school district for the cost of the textbook, subject matter materials or supplementary book.
If a fee, charge or assessment does not fall into one of the listed exceptions, it cannot be charged. Since charging a general fee to all students attending a public K-12 school doesn’t fall into one of the listed exceptions, it can’t be requested.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions as to whether or not a particular fee can be charged, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at 800-863-6718. or contact an attorney in your area.