After violations and concerns are found, Utah school board pursues recommendations on school fees

Stock image | Photo by artisteer/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah schools may be seeing some changes in the near future to the way school fees and fee waivers are handled.

During its last meeting on Dec. 3, the Utah State Board of Education voted to pursue all recommendations on public school fees from the board’s School Fees Task Force – a group of individuals tasked with changing the way Utah schools approve, collect, waive and manage schools fees. The School Fees Task Force was created in March after concerns were brought to the board’s attention about fees and fee waivers.

Emilie Wheeler, public information officer for board of education, told St. George News some of those concerns included whether the current administrative rule was being followed by public schools and charters.

“We started getting a few complaints through a hotline number that we have about how students in vulnerable positions were being treated through the school fees mechanism that schools use,” Wheeler said.

Some of those complaints included doubts about refugee students and the organizations that represent them truly getting fee waivers, she said, and not being charged more than they should be.

Two audits were also performed to address the concerns. Some of the findings in one audit include violations regarding transparency, inequitable access to school-sponsored activities and events, and an absence of control and oversight of fees by both state and local education leaders.

Regarding school-sponsored activities and events, Utah Code states that students shall not be denied the opportunity to participate in events due to an inability to pay a required fee.

“…Many (local education agencies) are not waiving certain fees for waiver-eligible students and are potentially excluding students who do not qualify for waivers by increasing fees to unreasonable levels,” the audit states.

Another concern the Office of the Legislative Auditor General outlined in its report was that some local education agencies discussed charging more to nonwaiver students to offset the revenue lost to fee waivers, which the report states is problematic because increasing fees to cover lost waiver revenue could worsen already high fees and potentially exclude more nonwaiver students due to an inability to pay.

After the audits’ findings and multiple discussions with board members, the School Fees Task Force made the following recommendations:

  • Request changes to statute or rule in order to give board of education the authority to suspend a school or district’s right to charge fees.
  • Seek legislative changes to update the definition of textbook, including amending the statute to prohibit schools from charging fees for textbooks, excluding textbooks for concurrent enrollment and Advanced Placement courses.
  • Seek legislation to create a funding program to offset the impact of revenue lost from fee waivers.
  • Seek changes to legislation to prohibit elementary schools from having prescriptive school uniforms.
  • Further define provisions related to uniforms to be considered by a board committee for possible rule change.
  • Passage of a heavily amended administrative rule R277-407.

Some of the recommendations listed above may seem vague, Wheeler said, and may require more legislative action.

The draft changes to R277-407 will be assigned to a board standing committee for additional work before coming to the full board for consideration. If approved in early 2019, the rule would go into effect approximately 90 days later.

“While it’s not accurate to say the board has approved the rule,” Wheeler said, “they did formally accept it as a recommended rule, which puts this process in motion.”

As to the other recommendations, Wheeler said the board of education anticipates several of them will see action during the 2019 legislation season.

To learn more about the recommended changes or school fees, click here.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.


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1 Comment

  • mshaw December 14, 2018 at 6:25 am

    We should also look at how much cash Larry burgeson gets on the side and his wages he always seems to have the collection plate out

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