11 Investigates: Student Fees

By: John Harding Email
By: John Harding Email

Is our free public education system really free?

Whether it’s student fees or fundraising, parents are being asked to pay more and more to support their child’s school.

The increasing amount parents are paying out of their pockets is only the beginning of a rocky road ahead for schools and the students they serve.

Barbie Grunkmeyer has a familiar story: mother of three active boys, she and her husband both work, and she watches her family budget closely. Imagine her surprise at a recent note from her sons’ Fountain/Fort Carson school, saying her boys had to fill a mid-year list of school supplies.

“It was still more money. It was another $200, and it’s about halfway through the school year. What are we going to do next year, have three long lists?” Grunkmeyer asked.

It’s not just school supplies that are depleting her pocketbook. Every month, she pays for her 5-year-old’s kindergarten and buys food for the entire class. She must also pay for bus service. In all, Grunkmeyer says costs are increasing—while school programs disappear.

“We’re having, as parents, to pocket a lot more than we should have,” she said.

The proof of that is in black and white: student fees just to attend schools, athletic fees, field trip fees, the endless barrage of fundraisers. More families now paying for their children to ride school buses. Supplies parents buy for their own children, handed out for the entire classroom to use.

It has many parents asking: where is the money to pay for what has become less of a “free” public education?

Glen Gustafson, the chief financial officer of District 11 says it’s drying up with budget cuts and higher costs. D-11 is Colorado Springs' largest school district.

“The mentality is that if we work harder, if we just cut deeper, if we just eliminated all the fluff, we could do it…the answer is, that’s just not true,” Gustafson told 11 News.

D-11 has weathered budget cuts each of the past six years. Gustafson predicts schools will reach their lowest legal level of state funding within three years. He said that would close many neighborhood schools, put an end to athletics and arts for many, and keep adding to the expenses parents are already facing.

Governor Hickenlooper spoke to 11 News about the quandary schools are finding themselves in.

“If we’re not going to raise taxes, or get more money by some magical formula, if we’re going to have to make do with the resources we have, how do we get the most out of it?”

Those resources, according to the governor, would be businesses partnering with public schools, increased ingenuity, and—most importantly—teacher development.

“We know a great teacher overcomes everything…so how do we take good teachers and make them into great teachers?”

But what if those great teachers turn to other states that offer higher pay and better funding?

“We’re going to lose the best and the brightest…those left are going to be disgruntled, and we’ll struggle to get any student achievement,” Gustafson said.

With few clear-cut solutions, the governor says it’s time for solutions.

“So often in business, when you don’t have the most money, you come up with the greatest ideas of how to do more with less. That’s what schools are trying to do right now, and I think they’re doing it.”

Those ideas can’t come soon enough for parents like Grunkmeyer, who fear current expenses will give way to a much higher potential cost: a challenged education for our children, a price they would pay for a lifetime.

Bottom line: the obvious solution is either more revenue through taxes or other means, finding new ways of educating a lower cost, or a combination of both.

Colorado currently ranks among the 10 lowest states for school funding.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by D on Feb 15, 2012 at 10:20 PM
    Honestly, I would give almost anything for my son to be back in So. Colorado schools rather than here in California. They have no buses here. He rides his bike in 120 degree heat 3 miles to and from school, there are no sports like there are in D-8. There are no afterschool activities, they do not give a care about the children of California at all! You never know how good something is until you have to leave it. We still own our home in Colorado and I would pay more property taxes to continue to have the things that are offered there rather than what we have right now iDn California. Seriously, if you are complaining and you have never been out of Colorado to see what the other states are truly lacking then you have no room to complain at all.
  • by ACope Location: Colorado Springs on Feb 15, 2012 at 03:16 PM
    Stuck in the middle! I see waste that could be cut from both our local and federal governments; however, usually the people in CHARGE are the WASTE!! Both my parents are "public" teachers for D11 not registered with the UNION and both took a pay cut last year and this year they will both have to give free-low days adding up to about $100 a month. My parents both spend money for their classrooms every year for supplies not provided by PARENTS or the TAXPAYER. I have no idea why they continue to be public teachers (they are both educated!), they must love it or something. Or maybe it’s because they want to see America play an active role in the future. In my experience the ones not voting for education are also the ones not supplying their kids with tools or support. CHEAP all around!! Education is a private service paid for by the public because we once decided our future was worth it. As tax payer we should be upset and do something about it, not just write about it, which would mean firing all of D.C. and stopping big money from running our country into the ground. I think there for I’m independent.
  • by Sandy Location: Pueblo on Feb 15, 2012 at 05:43 AM
    We're in this mess because Republicans have been cutting funds to education for decades, they controlled Congress from 1994-2006 and devastated many programs like this and social services (including child protective services). They take away from children because they can't vote! :(
  • by COFemale Location: CO on Feb 14, 2012 at 07:28 PM
    It is time waste is eliminated in the education system state wide. There needs to be an independent group with no ties to Colorado, who reviews all areas in education and makes requirements to streamline those areas and eliminate the fraud, waste, and abuse. This includes bad teachers, bad administrator, dumb programs etc.
  • by JD Location: Briargate on Feb 14, 2012 at 02:12 PM
    El Paso County and Colorado Springs in particular has the biggest bunch of cheapskates. We have the one of the lowest property tax rates in the state and probably the entire country. YOUR share of 'socialism' is miniscule, but I suppose it is better to have our children incapable of competing in the world. Future crime rates are so much better than paying a little extra for children's education - because funding the police, judicial system and rising insurance rates when these children grow up knowing the only way to make a living is through crime. And no, YOU don't know how to handle your money better than government. Look at the filth pile you call a home, not to mention the car you drive with dings and dents because you're too cheap to pay your insurance deductible to repair it after you collided with that cement barrier tells me you do not know how to handle your own money.
  • by Something to ponder on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:17 PM
    COS schools aren't the only district in CO with this issue. Let's face it- bond issues are never passed and in most disctrict's cases the homeowners taxes go to cover the buildings and not anything inside the buildings. And that is if homeowners are actually paying their homeowners taxes. To get materials to teach our kids is where a lot of school fees go that are paid at the beginning of the school year at registration. As for buying supplies- I am all for stocking my kid up but not the whole classroom. Yes CO is low in funding. The residents don't want to cover it (bond issues), the parent's don't want to cover it (fees), the kids are suffering because of it.
  • by Blah Blah on Feb 14, 2012 at 11:50 AM
    Until people start to recognize the important people in our society such as teachers, and public safety then we are only getting what we desire. People will go watch a football game in Denver and spend hundreds for one game and help pay the million dollar salaries for athletes while moaning about the quality of education and community safety. You get what you pay for. Until we fund priorities it's not going to change. By the way, I'm not a teacher. Make school fun and challenging again. Get rid of CSAP/TCAP. Retain students who do not pass minimums set by the state. Discipline in school and remove disruptive students. Everyone needs to be involved in educating our youth, not just people with children. Most people don't want to get involved in anything unless it involves them directly. Wake up people... The lack of education of our children will bring us all down as a society if we don't make this a priority.
    • reply
      by @ blah blah on Feb 14, 2012 at 12:19 PM in reply to Blah Blah
      Thank you! I agree completely. Especially with getting rid of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. The more these kids who need to be retained get pushed ahead the more they are getting left behind.
  • by Mable on Feb 14, 2012 at 11:43 AM
    Umm...in D11 average spending per pupil is about 900/year. Get your facts straight Bron.
    • reply
      by Common Sense on Feb 15, 2012 at 05:09 AM in reply to Mable
      Here, do your own research... http://www.d11.org/Transparency/CAFR/FY%202011%20(Year%20ending%20June%2030,%202011).pdf
    • reply
      by Ugh! on Feb 15, 2012 at 01:31 PM in reply to Mable
      They spend on average $8500 per student, Mable. And no, that is not enough.
  • by Bron on Feb 14, 2012 at 09:25 AM
    Average spending per pupil in CO is low - around $8,700 per pupil per year. D11 is over $9,000/pupil. For that kind of money, parents should NOT have to fork over their hard-earned money for anything more than basic supplies.
  • by Paying Parent Location: Colorado on Feb 14, 2012 at 07:51 AM
    All teachers hired should be the "best and the brightest". Why hire anything else when so many college graduates are in need of employment? Do away with the tenure system and see how quickly the slackers step up.
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