KNIGHTSTOWN — Indiana is one of eight states that charge for textbooks in public schools. Several bills have been introduced to eliminate textbook rentals and fees all together statewide, but have failed to get the traction they needed to pass. The additional fees can cost families hundreds of dollars a year per child depending on the district.
Families with kids who attend schools in Knightstown pay, on average, around $150 per student in textbook rentals and classroom fees.
“So when you talk about a family with two or three or more students, that can add up pretty quick,” said Jediah Behny, superintendent of Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation.
Behny says they work hard to keep their fees as low as possible. Even so, it does add up for families.
“For our family it's usually right around $175 to $200 for the year,” Jen Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson has two daughters in the district. Her daughter Libby is in fifth grade and attends the intermediate school, and her daughter Allie is in third grade and attends the elementary school. She also has a 3-year-old son who, in a few years, will be in the district as well.
While she can afford the costs just fine, Wilkinson knows others in the community who have gone through a challenging time due to the pandemic.
“We’ve been very blessed, but we do have some family friends whose small businesses had to close and that’s lost income for them,” Wilkinson said.
Situations like this are part of why the school board voted last week to suspend textbook rental and classroom fees for the 2021-2022 school year.
“It is something that we have been looking at for a while and have not moved forward with. But conversations of just the stress, the anxiety that people are feeling, now is just the right time for us to do it,” said Behny.
The costs will be covered by the district. With 1,053 students district-wide, it will come out to around $90,000. Behny said the cost will be spread out in other areas within the existing budget.
“Our school board has set forth a policy of wanting us to handle our operations within the already existing tax base that’s there,” Behny said.
He also wants families to be aware that the change will have no impact on students in the classroom or their learning environment.
“This is not going to in any way decrease student opportunities or materials for instruction or opportunities for kids," Behny said. "We’re just moving our budget away from relying on what we feel people have already paid for.”
This is one of several efforts the school district has taken to remove financial burdens for local families. Several years ago, they stopped charging students for attending athletic events. This upcoming year they will also stop charging for SAT testing, which they planned to implement this year but did not due to changes with testing requirements caused by the pandemic.
Behny says both SAT costs and student event entry costs are covered with the help of community support.
“There’s been a couple businesses in town that have been very supportive of the idea of eliminating any burden that might stand in the way of students getting the most they can out of their high school experience,” Behny said.
As of now, the elimination of textbook rentals and classroom fees is considered a pilot program for next year. Behny said this is to ensure they are able to provide information to the school board and test that it is sustainable. The goal is the eliminate the fees permanently at this time next year. Behny is also hopeful more districts will have the opportunity to implement this kind of change in the future.
“For us this was just the right time to do it but our hope is, and maybe it’s just dreaming, but hopefully this can happen everywhere,” Behny said.