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PANEL URGES AN END TO ALL FEES THROUGH 6TH GRADE

SHARE PANEL URGES AN END TO ALL FEES THROUGH 6TH GRADE

Kindergarten snacks, little handmade gifts for mom on Mother's Day - anything that traditionally is included in school programs but is not covered under standard elementary school budgets - could be on their way out.

A task force studying school fee issues has voted to recommend to the Legislature that no fees of any kind be allowed in grades kindergarten through six for the regular school program.The task force also voted to accept a goal to work toward eliminating fees for activities that occur outside the normal school day or calendar - a much tougher issue. Such programs as extra academic enrichment, science camps, field trips and instrumental music could fall prey to rigid enforcement of such a provision.

In addition, the task force heard a report on fee waivers granted by schools this fall statewide. (See chart.)

Schools lost less to fee waivers than anticipated - but the school year isn't over yet.

Schools reported almost $1.3 million in waivers after fall registration, said Deputy State School Superintendent Laurie Chivers. Estimates had ranged up to $6 million. Last year, the total for the whole year was $536,384. A 3rd District Court order has put schools on notice that they must abide by waiver provisions.

The 1992 fall figure was lower than expected, but by spring waivers could be up considerably as year-end activities proceed, Chivers said.

"Remember we're comparing a half year with a whole year."

Many of the expensive trips and other culminating events come at the end of the school year, and the waiver total almost certainly will rise. Additional fees also must be waived as each new term begins, she said.

The biggest losses from waivers, as expected, came in the urban districts that have the largest concentrations of children who meet the need criteria that trigger waivers. If they are eligible for free school lunch or have exceptional temporary economic circumstances, they are also eligible for fee waivers. (See chart.)

However, because the figures discussed Monday during a meeting of a school fee task force were much lower than expected, the State Office of Education will reduce its request for funds to help cover the losses, said Superintendent Scott W. Bean. The office included a $2 million request in its budget preparations for the upcoming legislative session and will halve that request, he said.

In its discussion of elementary school fees, task force members were reminded that Utah's Constitution calls for a free public education. The Legislature has passed statutes, however, that allow for charges in grades 7-12 and in elementary schools for activities outside the normal school program. The Constitution and the statutory provisions may be contradictory, said Carol Lear, legal counsel to the State Office of Education.

Regardless of either constitutional mandates or laws created by the Legislature, there is a regular practice in Utah schools of charging fees for various activities, task force members said.

Such fees sometimes leave poor children out. Trying to balance opportunity with equal access is the task force's difficult charge. The group will make recommendations to the Legislature in 1994.

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Lost revenue

School revenue lost through fee waivers this fall is more than double that for the previous year. Comparisons for districts in Salt Lake, Davis, Utah, Tooele and Summit counties include:

District 1991-92 1992-93

Salt Lake $53,482 $104,522

Granite 90,905 170,005

Jordan 56,361 136,029

Murray 5,244 14,705

Davis 48,124 99,827

Alpine 46,851 176,841

Provo 3,273 8,623

Nebo 12,194 53,864

Tooele 2,096 18,406

Park City 3,320 10,580

North Summit 75 136

South Summit 0 0*

State total 536,384 1,283,300

*South Summit charges no fees Source: State Office of Education