The $400 senior dues bargain at KIPP High School

A few months ago I visited the New York City KIPP High School and wrote a post about it.  That post was called ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ by a lot of people on Twitter, which I’m happy about because it took a lot of restraint to write it that way.  As they were very gracious over there and gave me free reign to go wherever I wanted into whatever class for whatever amount of time, I didn’t want to be too rude of a guest.  I never said that I wouldn’t write about what I saw.  Nothing was ‘off the record.’

I also exercised restraint because I’ve known the two founders of KIPP, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg for over 20 years.  They were not people I hung out with often when we were doing TFA in Houston at the same time, but they were people I saw at parties and have spent time with them over the years.  They were the subjects of my second letter to reformers I know.

I was hoping to get a response back from them, but since that doesn’t seem so likely, I’m not sure that a bridge that has already been burned can be burned again.  Anyway, for this post I’m going to share a photo I took.  This is not a really big incriminating thing, but maybe when I get warmed up I’ll give some more details about what I saw (and heard) in the future.

KIPP High School has a lot of money.  This is why their teachers only have to teach four classes a day, rather than the standard five, and why their class sizes seem to be around 20 students a class.  It costs money to have such a low student to teacher ratio so any examination of their success should consider this.  KIPP High has so much money that they will be moving into their own building next year.

KIPP High has 9th through 12th graders.  The current 9th graders would be scheduled to graduate in 2016.  What caught my eye was this poster explaining why the class of 2017 (was this meant to be 2016, or do most kids take five years to graduate?) needed to pay $400 in senior dues.  And just in case any students or parents were upset by this cost, they explain in this poster that the families should be grateful since the ‘retail’ price of these goods is actually $858.

With all their money, can’t they just get someone to donate the senior dues for these kids?  I wonder if they get their money back if they don’t make it through 12th grade.


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21 Responses to The $400 senior dues bargain at KIPP High School

  1. G says:

    This is definitely an interesting point. I have to wonder, what about the students who would prefer not to attend the senior brunch or banquet (also, is brunch really $75 per student? What are they serving??), or don’t want a yearbook, or don’t intend to attend prom? Are these amounts discounted from their dues?

    • Tee says:

      I’m curious about the blazer??? And what the heck is a “prom book”? Also, why in the world does it cost $150 to graduate?

      • Edharris says:

        My high school, DeMatha Catholic, charged $150 a couple, $75 for individual for the prom last year.

  2. Linda says:

    A $75 brunch could feed a large famly at Denny’s.

    Yeah, what is a prom book and what if you don’t got to prom?

    If you already bought the cap and gown, what is the additional $150 for?

    What happens if you don’t have the money?

  3. Mrs. B says:

    I run graduation at my school, and $150 per kid sounds about right. Diplomas and covers, flowers, cost for security and janitorial staff, rental chairs, printing programs and tickets, renting sound equipment. It adds up.

  4. anon says:

    Just FYI, I think this is for current seniors, not freshmen, – the “class of 2017” is referring to their college graduation year…

  5. Megan H says:

    I don’t remember having to pay these types of dues when I was in high school. I went to a public school in a suburb of Chicago. If you wanted things like t-shirts or yearbooks you paid for each item separately.

    What are the CUNY fees for?

  6. Meg says:

    I might be wrong, but I believe KIPP refers to their students by the year they would graduate college. So the “Class of 2017” would be the college graduating class of 2017, and the high school graduating class of 2013 (aka this year’s seniors). I don’t know anything about the dues, or whether they’re even mandatory, but hopefully this makes a bit more sense than a school posting a dues notice to kids 5 years away from graduation.

  7. Steve M says:

    Most senior “fees” are needless, but KIPP is certainly no different from the typical high school in that regard.

    This was a yawner…

    • Tee says:

      I work in a high school. I have friends in other high schools. I don’t know of any high school that has such fees. Prom tickets? Yes, that costs money. If you want to order senior portraits? Yes, that costs money. But both of those things are optional, and we have none of the other fees.

      Even when I went to high school, we didn’t have any of those fees.

      • Steve M says:

        Whatever you call it, senior “dues” or senior “fees”, this is par for the course in urban school districts. Do I think it is gross? Yes. Should it be discontinued? Yes. Why does it continue? Because students who are financially better off usually determine where the prom is held, what kind of senior T-shirt and jacket to purchase, where they want to have the senior breakfast, and so on, and so on…

        Other than the “graduation fee”, everything else in there fits the mold. The graduation fee is probably for the rental of a posh auditorium.

  8. veteran says:

    This isn’t about senior dues but I know of certain charter schools that insist that all uniforms must be purchased through the school. So any white colored shirt will not do, it has to be the ones with the school insignia for example.
    I would think that not having the option of using hand me downs or garage sales, etc would make this hard for some families while profitable for the school

  9. E. Rat says:

    In California, it is illegal to charge students any fees for educational activities, which includes extracurricular activities, transportation fees and field trips, and materials. I think that at least the blazer and the cap and gown would be considered fees for educational activities. Offering a fee waiver doesn’t count, either: you can’t charge fees here anymore.

    Regardless of what it buys, $400 is a lot of money. I am wondering what kind of fundraising KIPP is doing to offset these costs, and what happens to students who are unable or unwilling to come up with the cash.

    • Steve M says:

      Teaching in LAUSD for 19 years, I can say that each and every year I have taught students were charged for all of the costs listed on the board. Heck, I was charged for my cap and gown when I graduated…because the senior steering committee decided that we would purchase caps and gowns that correlated with our class colors.

      Even my wife was charged a fee to utilize the Forum for LA High School’s graduation back in 1985.

      Again, none of this is new, and none of it is germane to the finances of a charter school. What Gary should be discussing is why Wendy stepped down as the leader of TFA.

  10. Caroline Grannan says:

    Here in California (I’m in the same city as E.Rat), charter schools can charge students/families what they want when they want, though. They’re pretty politically untouchable and get close to no oversight short of outrageous criminal activity.

    • E. Rat says:

      I was wondering about that, actually, and couldn’t find out. Are charters also exempt from Williams complaints?

      It is a big leap to say that charter schools are just like other public schools, given things like this.

      • Steve M says:

        No, they are not exempt from Williams. But such complaints are seldom lodged, even against regular public schools…and they take years to litigate.

  11. Caroline Grannan says:

    They can get away with any ****ing thing they want, E.Rat. Were you around for the brouhaha when SFUSD moved to shut down the Urban Pioneer charter?

    (Its small problems: 2 students died by falling into a ravine on an unsupervised school wilderness trip. The school was in financial shambles, bouncing teachers’ paychecks. It was committing blatant academic fraud, “graduating” students who were far short of the requirements. And test scores were rock bottom, in case that matters. But to this day you can find people all over the city who are outraged that SFUSD shut down the school. After that, who would be crazy enough to try to provide even the tiniest oversight over a charter school?)

  12. E. Rat says:

    Yes, I do (and am amazed by the rose-colored myths it engendered). I know that charter schools are largely unregulated, but I am amazed by how our laws exempt them from even cursory oversight.

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