The San Diego Unified school board just deadlocked on whether to ask parents to voluntarily pony up fees for Advanced Placement exams — a cost that San Diego Unified now covers because the exams are required to get a higher grade point average in the classes. Superintendent Terry Grier cautioned that asking families to pay could be divisive and stigmatize students whose families do not donate, even if the payment is voluntary.

But exam fees are not the only money that parents are asked to pay for classes at public schools. One school, for example, is asking parents to send their kids with more than $100 for meals on a required tour for a music class. And parents are starting to balk.

Students in the wind ensemble class at the School of Creative and Performing Arts are required to go on a tour as part of their class, according to a description on the school website. The tour, scheduled to begin this Friday, spans from Irvine to Costa Mesa. Children were urged to bring between $100 and $175 for meals and miscellaneous spending. “ONLY TWO MEALS ARE INCLUDED IN THE TOUR PRICE,” a packing list from the school reads. It held fundraisers to pay for the tours and other activities.

Parent Sally Smith, who tipped me off to the issue, was furious. She said parents are now being asked to pay more money at the last minute. “There are students going on tomorrow’s trip whose parents are crying because the expense is beyond their means and they have to forego necessities,” Smith wrote in a complaint to the school district.

San Diego Unified does not have a specific policy on what parents can be asked to pay for and what they can’t. School district attorney Mark Bresee said that the California Constitution includes a “free school guarantee” and state law has been interpreted to prohibit schools from charging for activities that are considered “educational in nature” — including extracurricular activities. He was unsure where the field trip fees would fall because he had not heard about the issue.

Have you had to pay for items that are required for a class your child is taking? What do you think schools can fairly ask for parents to pay for — and what goes beyond the pale? Send me an e-mail about your experiences at


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