How school districts are helping families who can’t afford school fees

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY Va. -- While back-to-school week Is an exciting time, it's also an expensive time for parents. On top of supplies, books, and clothes, there's also additional school fees parents must pay.

But what about the families that can't afford them?

CBS 6 Problem Solver Shelby Brown looked into policies on school fees in several school districts.

Father of three Barry Farmer knows there’s always one expense after the other when it comes to raising children.

“Nothing is free, if you really want to think about it,” Farmer said with a laugh.

Barry Farmer

But this year, Farmer says he was prepared.

“I planned for that last year, so I make sure I made a budget for this year so I can get those (school fees) taken care of right away and not have that staggered out or stress over it,” said Farmer.

Although he is prepared, he says he knows that the cost can be out of reach for many parents.

“When extra things come up as far as fees for back-to-school, sure you have back-to-school drives and all, but you still need the computer and the extra elective fees. Some parents just don’t have that,” he added.

In Chesterfield where Farmer lives, district policy allows principals to reduce or waive fees for economically disadvantaged students and families undergoing economic hardships.

There’s a similar practice in Henrico County.

Spokesperson Andy Jenks says the ability to pay should not impact students’ access to instructional materials or impede them from extra activities.

“I’m not aware of any prohibition or anything that would stand in the way of a student participating in an activity because of the family’s inability to pay,” said Jenks. “If there is someone in the community who has a different experience than that, we certainly like to know about it.”

Jenks says their district is also working to ease the financial strain by eventually eliminating their laptop fee.

“A year ago, it was a $50.00 fee. This year it’s a 25.00 fee and a year from now that laptop fee will be eliminated entirely,” he said.

Jenks says if families need help, they should keep the lines of communication open with school leaders, who may just be able to help lighten the load.

“Maybe they don’t know the process and we would encourage them to bring it up with their student’s grade level administrator or the principal to have that initial conversation,” said Jenks.

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