Most parents are willing to pay the costs of field trips, believing their kids benefit. But what if parents can’t or won’t pay? What is your district’s policy? 

Are school fees for field trips, graduation and prom too high?

Parents value all these forms of enrichment, but costs can mount

A Carver High School student complained to Channel 2 that fees related to senior year and graduation were too high and reflected expenses she didn’t think were warranted. Chassity Andrews only wanted to attend prom and graduation but said her $300 senior year fees included things she didn’t want, including a hoodie.

The fee also paid for cap and gown, programs, invitations and Senior Week festivities. What it didn’t cover, the Carver student said, was prom. That was $200 more.

“Let’s just say some kids aren’t as social. What’s the point of participating in Senior Week? Or maybe you just don’t want a hoodie or whatnot. So why try to racketeer all that money under senior dues?” Chassity told Channel 2’s Tyisha Fernandes. “Most places located near the school are low-income apartments, so they know where most of these kids come from, yet they still charge these prices,” said Chassity.

Some parents are surprised by the extra costs they encounter, from the hundreds of dollars in graduation-related hoopla in high school to field trips and class overnights in elementary and middle schools. Such extra costs are legal, and increasingly common as more school districts restart the field trips that fell out of favor during the recession. Most parents are glad to pay the typically nominal field trip fees, believing the enrichment to their child is worth it. 

But schools can be tough on kids who falter on payment, warning high school students with outstanding lunch balances or unpaid senior fees that they won’t get to walk on graduation day.

A few years ago, I wrote about a local father who was upset his daughter was being barred from field day because he had not paid her after-school care tab. At the time, the dad told me, "I think this punishment for the child is immoral and so unfortunate. I remember some of my field days from school 40-something years ago. It, in its own way, is as important as other more scholastic school activities."

The problem, of course, is that schools don’t have petty cash accounts to cover a student debt, and workers in after-school programs expect to be paid. And there are slack parents willing to push the issue.

Schools contend students will still be able to go on field trips even if they don’t bring in the fees, but I can remember my kids coming home with notes warning a trip could be cancelled if not enough money is collected. 

I met a mother who ignored notes to send in money for field trip fees. In the beginning, she said it was because she just forgot. But then she discovered her daughter went on the field trip regardless of whether she paid, so she never worried about sending in the requested $5, $10 or $20. She assumed the school budget somehow accommodated field trip welshers.

A few months ago, I finally parted with boxes of clips from my first newspaper job more than 30 years ago in western New Jersey. Before recycling the stacks of newspapers, I looked over them, especially my coverage of school boards to see what issues were important three decades ago. (Amazingly, schools were still spending inordinate amounts of time on dress codes.)

At one board meeting, I wrote about an irate father who complained about the rising cost of an annual middle school field trip to Washington, D.C. He told board members the cost had nearly doubled since his first child went on the traditional eighth grade trip several years earlier. Why, he wanted to know, was the bill for his current middle schooler so high?

The school board explained it had increased the cost to all parents to cover kids whose families could not afford the trip. This was a fairly affluent community, and the dad seemed satisfied with that explanation, although I can imagine that answer would not sit well with all parents.

There are also less obvious costs to parents, such as snack duty rotations in the early grades in which parents are asked to bring in granola bars or fresh fruit for 22 students. That can be expensive. (This is a funny blog about being the room mom in a kindergarten where the parent quickly learns, “There are more celebrations in kindergarten than you can possibly fathom.”)

When my twins were in elementary school, I was asked to bring in a snack that involved guava as it aligned with a classroom lesson on the tropics and tropical fruits. So, I bought a case of guavas at a local farmer’s market, which, if I remember correctly, cost about $20. I didn’t know much about guavas, so I somehow let them go from unripe to rotten, and had to improvise. A wonderful neighbor told me she had just seen guava tarts at a local grocery store. By the time I showed up at class with enough snacks for 27 children, I probably had spent $50.

I’ve always complied with whatever fess the schools requested, as I think most parents in my Decatur schools did. What is the policy in your schools when parents don’t? And do the consequences fall on the parent or student?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.