by David Safier
I've heard stories of charters like BASIS expecting parents to give the school a donation as a non-obligatory part of enrolling their children, though I haven't gotten any absolute confirmation. Now it looks like Great Hearts charter schools are doing something similar.
This is wrong on at least two counts. First, while it's fine for schools to conduct fundraising drives, it's another thing entirely to expect parents to contribute a fixed amount to a charter school -- kind of a backdoor tuition -- and allow those who won't or can't to feel shame and guilt for refusing. Second, the charter school movement maintains charters can be leaner and meaner than public schools which have to pay for unwieldy district bureaucracies and put up with unions, yet some of the most highly praised charters are demanding "optional" contributions from parents because they can't meet expenses without them.
The story about Great Hearts charters, an Arizona string of schools, comes, ironically, from Tennessee where GH is trying to open its first out-of-state schools. It's meeting resistance from local school boards even though the state is trying to insist they accept the charter. Here's the story in the Tennessean:
A controversial charter school expected to be approved tonight by the Metro Nashville school board [Note: it was voted down 5-4] asks families in its Arizona schools to ante up a $1,200 gift, a separate $200 tax credit contribution, and a few hundred dollars in book and classroom fees.
However, a Great Hearts Academies official says the schools are free and that even the book fees will be waived if necessary.
“It is 100 percent clear to everyone in our schools that those are optional contributions,” said Peter Bezanson, president of Great Hearts Tennessee, the nonprofit management company set up for the five schools Great Hearts hopes to open in Nashville.
The paper notes that Great Hearts schools are mainly set up in wealthy areas and have students from high income families, which explains why they can expect those "optional contributions."
According to the paper, Great Hearts charges a refundable $35 per textbook. Parents can ask for a waiver if they can't afford the refundable fee, but they have to spend $25 to apply for the waiver and submit tax documents.
The schools also ask students to purchase other books for reading the classics of the Western canon that are so much a part of the curriculum, but Bezanson said schools will loan those books to students if needed.
Class fees of $120 are required for workbooks, student planners, assemblies, field days and ceremonies, according to at least one of the school’s websites, but again Bezanson said the fees are not required.
Are there parents out there who have run into these "optional" or waive-able fees at charters? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.