Charter schools and school districts alike provide many opportunities for students to participate in prekindergarten, extracurricular activities, field trips, and after school programs. In order to assist with the costs of these additional programs, charter schools and school districts may charge some optional fees or charge tuition for the program, but only if they are authorized to do so in the Texas Education Code.
Generally, an open-enrollment charter school may not charge tuition for a student who is eligible through the admissions process, with two exceptions. A charter school may charge tuition for students who are not eligible for a free, prekindergarten program, as defined under Section 29.153 of the Texas Education Code; or may charge tuition if a student is required to pay tuition to an open-enrollment school as a condition of their United States student visa under Section 25.0031 of the Texas Education Code.
Open-enrollment charter schools may not charge tuition for a half-day prekindergarten program for students who are eligible for free, prekindergarten. Students who are eligible for a free, half-day program include those that are at least 3 years old and:
- Unable to speak or understand English
- Educationally disadvantaged
- A child of a member of the military
- Under the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services
- A child of a first responder eligible for the Star of Texas Award (added by HB 357, during the 85th Regular Legislative Session)
A charter may offer a tuition supported prekindergarten program for students not eligible for prekindergarten, or the school may offer an additional tuition based half-day prekindergarten program to eligible students. If an open-enrollment charter school is going to offer a tuition supported prekindergarten program, the school must submit the tuition rate to TEA for approval and the tuition rate may not exceed to cost of providing the program.
If an open-enrollment charter school must charge tuition as a condition of a student’s visa, the charter school must accept tuition from the student at a rate equal to the full unsubsidized per capita cost of providing a student’s education, as determined by the commissioner. The tuition rate cannot exceed the tuition limits established by TEA.
Open-enrollment charter schools may only charge the same fees that a school district can, as outlined in Section 11.158 of the Texas Education Code. However, a charter school, just like a school district, may not charge a school wide activity fee or any other blanket fee and cannot require a parent to pay a fee for a program or activity that the student is not participating in.
A charter school may charge for the following programs or activities, but must do so on an individual basis for each:
- Fees for materials used for a program beyond the minimum requirements, and the materials will become the personal property of the student;
- Membership dues to an organization, club, or extracurricular activity, so long as the program is voluntary;
- A security deposit for the return of materials, supplies, or equipment;
- Fee for personal P.E. equipment or apparel;
- Fees for items that will be the personal property of the student, such as class rings;
- A reasonable fee for the use or rental of musical equipment and uniforms;
- Fee for a course offered during the summer (if the course is required for graduation, it must also be offered for free during the school year);
- A reasonable fee not to exceed $50 for a school program offered outside of the regular school hours, where a student receives instruction voluntarily for purpose of making up missed instruction and meeting attendance requirements.
Fees may not be charged for any course or activity that is required for a student to attend, including fieldtrips or a prerequisite for graduation. Schools may require students to furnish their own pencils, paper, pens, erasers, notebooks, and school uniforms, but may not charge fees for instructional materials, workbooks, or supplies necessary to participate in an instructional course. Additionally, schools must adopt reasonable procedures for waiving a deposit or a fee if a parent is unable to pay. Finally, schools may not charge a fee for late pick-up or early drop-off of a student.
Charter schools must be careful in structuring what fees they are charging their students. Review the authorized fees under § 11.158, make sure that the school is not charging a school wide activity fee, ensure that parents are aware of what fees are charged for each individual program, and that the programs are voluntary.
As always, if you have any questions, please contact Christine Nishimura, TCSA Deputy General Counsel at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 512.584.TCSA (8272), ext. 306.