At the request of the Ohio Association of Career-Technical Superintendents and Ohio Association for Career and Technical Education, the Ohio General Assembly added a provision to HB 153 (State Budget) allowing school districts to charge fees to “free lunch” students for certain items used in career-tech programs. These students had been given a blanket exemption from student fees under legislation enacted in 2009.
The new provision contained in HB 153 took effect September 29, 2011. As amended, the student fees statute now permits fees to be charged to free lunch-eligible students if the fees are for
“tools, equipment, and materials that are necessary for workforce-readiness training within a career-technical education program that, to the extent the tools, equipment, and materials are not consumed, may be retained by the student upon course completion.”
This new provision clearly allows districts to charge “free lunch” students with certain fees in career-tech settingsundefined something which was not previously possible. However, the exact scope of this language is open to interpretation. In a carpentry class, for example, does this language allow charges for all wood used by a student, or only for the wood that is “retained” by the student afterward as a piece of furniture or leftover wood? Both interpretations are possible under the language used by the General Assembly.
In the absence of further guidance (perhaps issued by the Attorney General, a court of law, or the legislature itself), districts should use caution when charging fees to free lunch-eligible students for items that are in fact consumed in the instructional process and which are not “retained by the student upon course completion.” In the leading case interpreting the
Ohioschool fees statute, the Ohio Supreme Court has said that “Free public education is the rule in this state, fees the exception.” Assn. for Defense of
Washington Local SchoolDist. v. Kiger,
42 Ohio St.3d 116 (1989). Although no one can predict how the new amendment of school fees will ultimately be interpreted, this case would suggest that the courts may feel compelled to a give a narrower, rather than a broader, interpretation.
Please note: The above information is provided as an informational service courtesy of the
OhioAssociation for Career and Technical Education and Bricker & Eckler LLP. It is not intended to serve as a legal opinion with respect to any specific person or factual situation.