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Some VA Public Schools Spell "Free" F-E-E

May 28, 2008

Richmond, VA - Any second grader in Virginia will tell you there's an "R" in the word "free," but some public schools seem to be having trouble with that spelling.

According to a new report from the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center, "fee" is more common than "free." The report says many Virginia school districts charge instructional fees, and others expect parents to pay for required items like gym suits, agenda books, or lab chemicals. Report author Angela Ciolfe explains these additional fees place a burden on the parents of Virginia's schoolchildren.

"We believe that the fees being charged by the school division for things that are required such as services, materials, or required activities, are actually not permitted by the state constitution, and that instead of charging parents, we as a state should be stepping up to foot the bill for what students need."

Ciolfe says Virginia's constitution guarantees a free education, though schools might be allowed to charge for extracurricular activities like clubs and athletics. But even if they do, she says, they should make waivers available for families who cannot pay.

Ciolfi believes that when schools try to charge for programs and materials, it's a sign that the state isn't investing enough in public education.

"Virginia is actually fairly low in state support for public education. Although we're the fifth wealthiest state in the country, we're actually 33rd in state support for public education. Given our wealth, I think that there is room for improvement or room to take a look at our priorities."

More information on is available online at

John Robinson/Steve Powers, Public News Service - VA