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Lawmaker: Abolishing Textbook Fees Unlikely

Textbooks

(Adam Pinsker, WFIU/WTIU News)

An Indiana lawmaker says there are no plans to eliminate the annual per-child fee parents have to pay for curriculum and learning materials.

“It’s never easy for us to pay, it’s always before Christmas, that bill comes in, and I don’t have that extra money at that time," Monroe County Community School Corp. parent Jenny Robinson says.

Robinson says she paid 430 dollars total for all three of her children last year.

“I have three kids. One is in elementary school, she’s a fifth grader; one is a rising seventh grader, and I’ll have a tenth grader," she says.

Jenny Robinson
Bloomington resident Jenny Robinson (center) cleans a table with her children

MCCSC Director of Business Operations John Kenny says those who don’t pay their textbook bills on time are sent to collections.

After a certain amount of time, the collection agency keeps half of the money from each unpaid bill.

“The state mandates that you purchase curricular materials and charge a rental fee to families, students to recoup the costs," he says.

Kenny says the amount of accounts sent to collections decreased from 2,097 last school year to 1,686 this school year.

That’s nearly a $100,000 difference.

“I think it could be more awareness, a little more diligence in communicating that we are making sure the bills are due,” Kenny says.

But Robinson, who is also chair of the Monroe Chapter of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, says school districts shouldn’t be put in the position of being bill collectors in the first place.

“To me it’s just a travesty that we are not fully funding education, that we’re leaving textbooks and curriculum out of the cost equation,” she says.

Chair of Indiana’s House Education Committee Bob Behning says Indiana’s constitutional guarantee of a free education doesn’t include certain fees levied at the local level.

“Seldom do you hear parents complain about the fees that are associated with lab fees, there are also fees that are charged for athletics," says Behning, a Republican who represents parts of Marion and Hendricks County.

Indiana’s constitution mandates the state’s budget be balanced.

Behning says the budget already includes $39 million each year to pay for students’ families who can’t afford the textbook fees.

If the state has to pay for all curriculum fees, it could mean less money for other areas of education.

“Frankly I’d rather spend a lot more of my time trying to figure out how we can drive more money to teachers, if the state pays for textbooks that would be a lot more of money not available for teacher salaries," Behning says.

He says Louisiana uses open sources for their curriculum, which are usually materials that are a lot cheaper than traditional textbooks.

“Two plus two always equals four, so there are textbooks that are out of copyright that I assume would be available," Behning says.

He says, to his knowledge, not a single district in the state uses open sourcing.

But for Robinson, the fees are a slap in the face to Hoosier families struggling to make ends meet.

“I think there is a reluctance to fully fund education, and I think maybe there’s a sense that families need to step up and pay," she says.

Textbook fees for this school year are due in late November. Waivers are available for students who are on free and reduced lunch.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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