Is the Public School Really Free?

Here in the US, we have a public school system. Every student has the right to a free education. They cannot be turned away. Yes, every child can get an education without paying for it…but is it really free?

The Clothes
Have you had to buy clothes for your child at the beginning of the school year? You have to get nearly everything as though they had nothing and it has to meet certain codes. Even when you go to second hand stores, it can get pricey. I had three children who ranged 2–3 years age difference. I spent well over a hundred dollars in basic clothes for school that would keep Social Services off my back. Add the fact that kids grow and need bigger clothes and shoes. I nearly had to take a second job to afford that, but they need clothes anyway.

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The Supplies
Here we really hit something that hurts our finances. In order for children to be educated, they have to bring their own school supplies. That would include paper, pencils, folders, and those objects based on grade levels such as crayons, scissors, or calculators. The lists for what the schools need the students to bring can be rather long. One year I spent nearly three hundred dollars in school supplies alone, and that only have I shopped around for some really cheap prices.

Yes, I agree that children need to bring supplies to school. But do they really need all the things on the lists? My children had papertowels and tissue on their lists. More than one each. Too often we didn’t have the money to get all the supplies at once so those were the ones I figured I could get later. Always got a note from the teacher telling me that I needed to send them.

Then there was the red pens and post-it notes. What did my children need with them? They didn’t. It was for the teachers. I quickly discovered that I was overdrawing my checking account to supply the teacher. The same teacher made more money than I did.

That doesn’t even approach the specific supplies that are either expensive or impossible to find. Why do they need specific colored folders which everyone else has already bought up? Why does it have to be name brand crayons that are four times as expensive as the store brand? Parents spend way too much time trying to find the perfect supplies that it bankrupts them.

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The Fees for Advanced Classes
What if you have a child that is really smart and wants to take advanced classes or is interested in metal working? If you don’t have the money for fees, they can’t take the class. Anything that pushes a child beyond being average costs you up to a few hundred a year. That is on top of the supplies and clothes.

Yes, it is a choice. Yes, they don’t have to take photography to be successful in life, but what if their calling in life is to be a photographer? The free public education only is free for basic math, reading, and science skills.

The Fees for Extra-Curricular Activities
Now let’s look at sports, forensics, band, or anything else that happens outside of normal class time. It costs money to participate. Sometimes it can be enough to make you sweat.

My son would come to me and give me the papers for the sports he wanted to join. My husband and I spent the night going over where we could find the money to pay for it. Sports was his passion and helped him build bonds with his classmates. I found the money.

My oldest daughter is a gifted musician. She was asked to join a choir group that specialized in medieval music. The fee was a hundred dollars, and we had to buy her a dress that fit the time period. I had to get a short term job to pay for it. I don’t regret it as it helped to grow her gifts.

Misc. Fees
Then there are miscellaneous other fees. Those can add up and increase the school debt quite a bit. Every school district is different, and the fees can vary based on what grade your child is in.

Financial Help
There is financial help for those who are pretty low on the poverty scale. We have been in that situation a few times and had to jump through hoops to get the fees waived and help with school supplies. The problem is that not everyone above the poverty mark is doing well for themselves.

The poverty line is a general line drawn by the government to guide themselves in aid given to families. It does not take into account where a person lives or the size of their family or even their health conditions. We lived in a small town with three kids. We made just enough to not be in poverty level. That meant we had to think of creative ways to pay for school.

Most schools will take payments of the fees, but that only helps give parents a temporary break. I realized that the public schools were not free. We had to take second jobs to pay for that. Should have looked at private schools.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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