Efforts to eliminate non-refundable school textbook fees will show up in the next legislative session.
The Education Interim Committee directed legislative staff Wednesday to draft a bill aimed at eliminating such fees in secondary schools. The bill is to reflect a task force proposal from the Utah School Boards Association and committee discussions."Kids have got to have books to get their basic education," Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Salt Lake, said before the committee's unanimous vote. "I hope we can tackle this and get it taken care of."
Each school district receives some textbook funding through the weighted pupil unit, the state's basic funding formula for public education. But allocations don't cover the costs, as books can exceed $50 apiece.
In 1986, Utah voters authorized school districts to collect fees from seventh- through 12th-graders to help bolster budgets without raising taxes.
But the fees have become frustrating for parents, said Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh, fees task force chairman for the school boards association. They also may hurt families just shy of qualifying for fee waivers.
"This is a very burdensome thing," said Baugh. His comments reflected those presented to the interim committee last month.
The task force proposes the state give $50 per secondary student, the maximum amount assessed for non-refundable textbook fees, to cover districts' lost revenues. That totals $11.1 million and includes students qualifying for fee waivers.
Leftover funds would be used to reduce activity and course fees.
Districts would be required to present plans for the funds before receiving them. Districts also could continue refundable textbook fees if steps are taken to ensure fee waivers continue.
Textbook fees for concurrent enrollment would not be affected.
Sen. Scott Howell, D-Granite, said funding such a proposal is reasonable, considering a $50 million projected budget surplus.
"If we can fund a comprehensive education system we ought to fund textbooks," he said.
Non-refundable textbook fees in secondary schools range from $10 in the Salt Lake City School District to $50 in Park City School District. The state average hovers around $24. Seven of Utah's 40 school districts, including Tintic and San Juan, assess no such fee.
District activity fees range from $13.50 in Piute to $42 in Wayne, which does not assess non-refundable textbook fees. Students also pay locker and course fees; those involved in athletics or other optional activities sometimes fork out hundreds of dollars to participate.
Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, suggested that fees be looked at across the board, from the Utah High School Athletics Association to other course fees. She also said the philosophy behind fees is not all bad.
"There is value in students earning money and paying for services they're getting," Allen said.
But a State Office of Education 1993 study of all fees came to a halt because extensive issues could not be worked out, Baugh said. Targeting one fee, however, is possible.
"We are asking that of all the fees out there, look at the textbook fee and eliminate it," Baugh said. "I'm very appreciative to . . . this committee for its willingness to listen and positive motion. It's apparent they're willing to take on a complex issue because of their decision to help families."