Dozens of Indiana school districts are suing parents over unpaid textbook fees, despite receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars per classroom.
The South Bend Tribune reported the School City of Mishawaka has filed lawsuits against hundreds of parents:
When Hannah Watts received a reminder notice in the mail in January for the $701.56 she still owed for her childrens’ textbook fees from last year, she decided to use her tax refund to pay it off in the spring.
But two months later, the coronavirus pandemic shut down Indiana. Watts is a dental assistant, and her hours at work were slashed. She had no choice but to use the refund to cover household expenses.
Watts says she didn’t hear anything else about the bill until Aug. 7, when a notice appeared on her door. School City of Mishawaka, the district her three children attend, had filed a lawsuit against her.
Watts agreed to pay the fines with money she had saved to buy new clothes for her three high schoolers.
The mother said she paid what the school district said she owed and did not go to the scheduled hearing. The court then ordered her to pay “attorney fees and court costs of $348.83.”
The School City of Mishawaka has about 5,300 students and has filed suit against the parents of 294 of them, according to the paper.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics showed the district has a student-to-teacher ratio of 16.96.
The Center also reported Mishawaka schools received $15,055 per student in the 2016-2017 school year, the latest year data was available.
That equated to over $255,000 in combined local, state, and federal funding per classroom.
The data showed the school district only spent about 80 percent of student aid — or $12,104 per student — that year.
“I recognize the fact it’s my responsibility to pay, and I should have had it paid on time,” Watts told the South Bend Tribune. “But my issue is now I have (attorney and) court fees when I did exactly what they asked.”
According to the paper, 38 Indiana school districts, or corporations, have filed suit against parents over book expenses.
The Avon Community School Corporation acknowledged the fees can be so exorbitant, it is “more like a house payment.”
Indiana is one of eight states that charges parents for books, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE) said in 2019.
“We heard from a parent who had lived in three different states where books were covered,” Marilyn Shank, vice president of the ICPE, told WBIW. “They moved to Indiana with five children and they were astonished to get a bill for $1,200.”
The ICPE has supported efforts to end the fees.
“If you can’t fund it, you could at least give the families a tax credit or tax deduction for paying that, because we do that for private school parents and we do that for home school parents,” Shank said. “So why can’t we do that for everyday parents who are sending their kids to public schools?”