SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s elementary schoolchildren are guaranteed a free education in the state constitution, but a state lawmaker wants to make it clear that doesn’t necessarily include items like glue, scissors and notebooks.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is sponsoring a resolution that would amend the constitution so schools could ask students to voluntarily provide their own school supplies.
State law prohibits elementary schools from charging anything resembling a fee.
Courts have ruled that this means teachers can ask students to bring school supplies they might have at home, but they can’t ask them to bring specific items. That’s resulted in a complex set of rules governing what schools can ask students to voluntarily bring to class.
The State Office of Education has developed five pages of guidelines to help parents and teachers understand what types of fees are allowable and which are not.
For example, teachers can ask elementary students to bring in construction paper, but not a specific size, color or amount of it, said Carol Lear, an attorney for the Utah State Office of Education.
“It’s when the teachers in elementary school want them to bring 10 folders in these colors, a certain brand of pencil, this kind of box to hold them all. When it gets very prescriptive, then it’s in violation,” she said.
Powell said that confusion has resulted in several problems.
First, he says some teachers are afraid to ask students to bring in anything to class, resulting in them paying for supplies out of their own pockets. He also said school budgets are being drained to pay for basic things such as pencils for which he contends parents should pay.
“I think that to the extent that parents are able to help defray the cost of their own child’s education, they should be asked to do so,” he said.