School has begun and parents are still recouping from school supply fees, new school clothes and extra curricular fees, but what may surprise some families this year is the textbook bill.
Indiana is one of only eight states in the country still charging families for textbooks in the public school system and those costs can run anywhere from $90 to $200 per child.
Those with larger families commonly see bills in the hundreds to add to expected costs in the fall.
What goes into configuring textbook rental fees?
Textbook fees typically vary by grade and schedule, particularly at the high school level if a student is taking excelled courses, but technology has increasingly taken a larger roll as many in the higher grades are required to carry laptops or tablets.
By Indiana state law, school districts can charge 25 percent of the textbook's value, as well as a technology fee.
The charges are designed for schools to recoup purchase costs over several years which requires a rental of the book as opposed to purchase.
Jennifer Todderud, director of communications at Lebanon Community Schools (LCS), said the district follows a regular adoption cycle, so no one grade is hit with higher fees than another.
“Our students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade have consistent fees because these students all need the same books and supplies," she explained. "They also pay a $40 technology fee for iPads. Once the student hits sixth grade and has several options for coursework, their fees vary based on the textbooks that course uses. They also pay a fee of $50 per year for the use of Mac books in grades 6-8.”
How do school districts keep costs low?
Scott Wyndham, director of finance and operations for Avon Community School (ACS), said, “We work hard to keep the costs as low as we can for families. Each year, we look for ways to reduce costs and prioritize materials. In some cases, we use older textbooks if they still adequately address state standards, use class sets or we’ve received grants to offset costs.”
Zionsville Community Schools (ZCS) have centralized their purchasing in order for publishers to give bulk rates or discounts.
“We maintain a good balance of digital and printed resources,” said Kris Devereaux, chief academic officer at ZCS. "We want to ensure we have the best instructional materials to meet our students’ needs."
Still, the fees are passed on to families and they are expected to pay them.
Some districts will work with a payment plan for those struggling. Others, like ZCS, have experienced local community groups or service organizations pitching in to help families in need.
“It’s definitely a surprise for families who come to us from another state," said Todderud. "Many comment they’ve never seen this before or are confused that public education can charge these fees."
ZCS Superintendent Scott Robison said in his 13 years at ZCS, he’s encountered a “handful” of parents that were surprised.
“They haven’t expressed anger or frustration with me," he said. "It’s just an oddity for folks who have always lived elsewhere.”
Wyndham added that concerns also include costs for students taking college level courses as the cost of those books increase significantly from what parents were used to paying.
By the time a student reaches high school, fees are geared more toward technology than physical texts.
“In high school, we no longer adopt textbooks, due to the amount of online resources teachers use,” Todderud said. "High school student (9-12) fees consist of a $160 a year technology fee for Macbooks, plus whatever supplies and/or consumables are dictated by their course selection."
What to do about lowering or eliminating these fees?
“Current funding that the State provides for ACS hasn’t even kept pace with inflation and that’s without taking textbooks into account,” Wyndham said.
Todderud agreed and said lowering textbook fees is a legislative issue.
“In other states, the state provides funding — either directly to the school or through state aid," she said. "In our experience, the state cannot even cover obligations they have for students who qualify for assistance. Historically, we’ve only received $75 per student, which doesn’t cover fees at any level.”
The cost to provide free textbooks through the state is estimated between $100 and $240 million per year — a tough call when working with a host of priorities such as full-day kindergarten and other issues.
“I would encourage any citizen wanting to see a change to begin by contacting their elected officials to voice their concerns,” Todderud said. "I also recommend parents do everything they can to educate themselves about the complex world of school finance. For instance, we offer a yearly budget work session in August that is open to the public."