Fees and Deposits
Under the Arizona Constitution, students have a right to a free public education (Ariz. Const. art. XI, § 6). That means neither charter schools nor district schools may charge fees that create barriers to enrollment. Schools are required to waive fees if it creates economic hardship to students and their families. Arizona law states the “nonpayment of fees charged by a public school may not prevent a pupil from enrolling in, applying to or remaining enrolled in a public school" (A.R.S. § 15-116(A-B)).
Despite this clear prohibition, at least 35 charter schools in Arizona charge fees for a range of items, including essential course materials like textbooks, without giving parents a waiver option. Ten charter schools require parents to pay fees tied to enrollment. In addition, at least 41 charter schools charge anywhere from $50 to $1,000 in fees for activities, such as field trips, and supplies. These fees may keep students from low-income families from applying, especially when the school doesn’t allow families to waive the fees, and make it so that an education that’s supposed to be free is only available to those who can afford it.
Charter schools can charge extracurricular fees, such as a fee to participate in an after-school sports team. But they cannot charge fees for activities or items that are an integral component of a student’s education. Doing so violates Arizona law (A.R.S. § 15-116(A-B)).
Fountain Hills Charter School (Fountain Hills): “A $100 non-refundable fee per student is due upon registration and will be used to sustain programs such as band, orchestra, choir, science laboratory, art and reading.”
Freedom Academy (Phoenix, Scottsdale): A non-refundable $300 “Extracurricular Arts Fee” is due once the parent receives confirmation from the school of their child’s enrollment. Parents enrolling two children will be charged $250 for the second child. Parents enrolling three or more children will be charged $200 per child. The school also notes, “Other nominal fees will occur during the year” for field trips and other activities.
Foothills Academy (Cave Creek, Scottsdale): “The annual Foothills Academy Support Fee (FASF) is $575 for each student who attends Foothills Academy. Families with two or more students enrolled or enrolling receive a discounted FASF of $500 per student. If enrolling after the first semester, this fee is prorated to one half (1/2) these amounts, i.e. $287.50 per student or $225.00 (with sibling discount). Top-notch faculty, innovative programs and small class sizes are some of the reasons you may have chosen Foothills Academy for your student. These critical components require funding beyond that which is provided by the State of Arizona.”
Gem Charter School (Mesa): “There is a School Supply and Activity Fee for every student. This will pay for snacks, cook a lunch day once a month and other consumable classroom supplies, some field trips, the Montessori Magazine 'Tomorrow’s Child' and other extra curricular activities. It is $150 if paid entirely in first month of school, $160 if paid in two $80 payments or $17.50 if paid monthly for 10 months, due on the 1st of the month.”
Great Hearts schools (schools across the Phoenix metro area): These schools charge parents a “one-time book deposit” of $100 to $175, depending on the school. Parents are required to pay it upon enrollment to the school. The school notes the book deposit fee “is refunded when the student graduates or withdraws from the school as long as all textbooks have been returned in good condition each year.”
Montessori Academy (Paradise Valley): A $25 non-refundable paperwork fee is due at time of enrollment. The school also charges a non-refundable Extracurricular Activity Fee of $1,000 to maintain a low student-teacher ratio, as well as to cover art, music, and physical education costs. “The State continues to cut education funding,” the school states. Parents can apply for financial assistance to help pay for the $1,000 fee, but they must still pay $150 at time of enrollment.
Mountain Oak Charter School (Prescott): The school charges parents a $170 fee to cover the costs of materials, including pigment paints and crayons, colored pencils, painting paper, main lesson books, and clay. In addition, the school also charges a $60 classroom fee that covers the cost of snacks, field trips, costume fabric and gardening equipment and other items. There’s also an optional $25 charge to rent recorders, which the school states “are an important part of the curriculum and are used often.” Though the school states parents for whom the fees are a hardship can pay what they can, it doesn’t give them an option to waive the fees completely.
San Tan Charter School (Gilbert): Parents are asked to provide a credit card the school can keep on file. The school says it will keep the card on file at its finance office and will use it to pay several fees, including a $250 technology rental fee for grades 9-12. The school also asks parents with children in K-8 to make a $50 Credit for Kids Donation without making it clear it is voluntary.
Tempe Preparatory Academy (Tempe): The school charges a $180 book deposit fee for all grades. There’s also a class fee students have to pay at enrollment. The class fee ranges from $60 to $287, depending on the student’s grade level. The school says it “does not want to exclude any student from participation due to financial hardship,” and tells parents they can apply for financial assistance. However, families must pay a fee for the financial aid application, which is used to determine how much financial assistance the school will provide them.
- Schools should make it explicit that enrollment is not conditioned upon the payment of any fees, including book deposits, lab fees, or activity fees.
- Schools should make clear that complete waivers are available for fees related to the student’s educational experience.