Got a couple of kids?

How’s your line of credit?

Because you’re going to be writing checks when school starts.

The Payson school board last week updated its fee schedule for many student activities and classes, an incremental process that has turned “free public schools” into budgeting practice for sending kids to college.

To give you an idea of how the fees add up, assume you have two kids in Payson schools. They’re both on sports teams. One’s also in band. The other’s in drama classes. Because they’re awesome kids, they’re each taking one advanced placement course. One’s taking an extra online class not offered in the regular lineup of classes.

So how much will you have to shell out?

Well, $400 for the sports teams for starters. About $20 per class per semester for drama and band. About $25 to rent a band instrument. About $95 for each AP class. About $250 per unit for an online course.

Add that up and you could easily get to $700 for two kids for the school year — plus another $750 for a three-unit online course, according to the fee schedule. And just hope they don’t want to go on any field trips.

Welcome to the confusing world of pay-as-you-go “free” public education — at least if you want some bells and whistles that get kids excited.

The five-page list of school fees the board adopted added a charge to rent band instruments and allowed for almost unlimited fees for overnight field trips, but mostly left the fees unchanged from last year.

Students can apply for financial help to cover those fees, based on family income. Payson residents donate more than $150,000 annually to school through the Credit for Kids tax write-off program and the district uses some of that money for activities scholarships.

The fees list has grown steadily in Arizona schools, partly because the state spends about 50% less per student than the national average, according to national statistics. That means beleaguered school districts have to charge extra for a lot of the “extras,” although research shows that things like sports, band, drama, vocational classes and other add-ons increase student test scores and graduation rates.

About half of Payson’s school families qualify for free and reduced school lunches based on family income. The Payson median household income is $51,000, but that’s skewed by a median age in the community of 60. Nationally, the national median family income is about $80,000 and the median age is 38.

The board adopted the new fee schedule after a brief discussion of how to charge for field trips — especially overnight trips with a higher price tag.

The board ultimately adopted an open-ended upper range on what it can charge for field trips — adding one more item out of reach for many Payson families.

But, hey — at least it gives families practice in budgeting for college.

Did we mention it costs $2,400 a year in tuition for a semester at Gila Community College and about $10,000 at Arizona State University?

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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