A few years ago my teaching partner and I put a stop to the Nickel and Dime Cycle in our classrooms. You know what I’m talking about. The note that goes home saying
“We are working on a special holiday craft… please contribute $2.”
Six weeks later, that note is followed by another note explaining that
“We would like to order a magazine subscription for each student in the class… please send in $5,” and throughout the year, the notes requesting money for special events continue to be sent to classroom parents.
The pattern of continually requesting money from parents was daunting and inconvenient for the teachers and the parents, so my teaching parter and I devised a better way to collect money for all of our Kindergarten special events and materials.
We spoke with our principal and decided to charge a one-time Kindergarten fee. We collect a set amount from each family at the beginning of the school year, make very clear how the money benefits their children and also clearly explain the type of expenses that are NOT covered by the fee (usually field trips and special school-wide collections). Once the money is collected, our school bookkeeper handles payments out of the account for us and we keep track of our expenses with a simple spreadsheet to ensure that we do not spend more than was collected.
I will walk you through suggestions for starting your own classroom or grade-level fee, points to consider, and how to handle parents that cannot afford the added expense.
DISCLAIMER: This is something that works for the parents and students at my school, which serves upper-middle class families. The fee fits into the vast majority of family budgets at my school. Since I teach at a private school, I cannot create funding projects on Donors Choose. If you work in a public institution that serves underprivileged families, a grade-level fee will probably not work for you and I highly recommend seeking funding from Donors Choose.
Special Items that are Funded by my Kindergarten Fee
My teaching partner and I request that all families pay a $25 Kindergarten Fee. We budget that money very carefully to make it last all year and make sure that students get the maximum amount of resources from the fee. So what exactly does the fee cover? The list is EXTENSIVE.
1. Kindergarten T-Shirts
Each year we order a set of class t-shirts. Last year’s t-shirts came from ClassroomFaces.com and they were a HUGE hit! We received so many compliments on these adorable t-shirts from staff and parents all year long.
2. Magazine Subscriptions
Each child in the class receives a subscription to National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine. Throughout the year, students receive 7 issues of the magazine. They are right on-level for my little readers and are loaded with fascinating articles and beautiful photos. My students are always excited when the newest issue arrives. As an added bonus, previous issues of the magazine are available for anyone to view online for FREE.
3. Christmas Parent Gifts
The gifts that students create for their parents are often funded through the Kindergarten Fee money. The exact gift often changes from year-to-year, but previous gifts have included framed water color paintings of Christmas trees and a keepsake CD with each child in the class reciting the lyrics to popular christmas songs.
4. Q and U Wedding
Each year we add a fun twist to our alphabet study – the letters Q and U get married. We have a ceremony and reception (complete with cake, decorations, and music!) A portion of the Kindergarten Fee funds this annual silly celebration.
5. Mother’s Day Tea Party
A big tradition at my school (over 20 years in the making) is the annual Mother’s Day Tea Party that we throw to honor the moms of the kindergarten students. Each year we replenish the party supplies and purchase materials to make a sweet gift for the moms.
6. Graduation Sashes
Graduation is final big event for our Kindergarten students. We have a sweet & simple ceremony and order each student in the class a custom graduation sash as a keepsake. The remaining portion of the Kindergarten Fee covers this final expense.
Tips for Successfully Launching a Class Fee
Let’s face it. For many families, $25 is a lot of money. While I truly believe that it is a small price to pay for all of the materials that are funded by the collection, I don’t want parents to be upset by the amount of the fee. Especially when I know that previous classroom families paid the same amount of money for special classroom materials (just in smaller doses). So I always take special measures to ensure that parents are fully-informed about the fee in a way that hopefully will not be too upsetting. Here are a few tips I have learned along the way.
Tell Parents About the Fee in Person
If you have the option of informing parents about the fee face-to-face or with a note sent home, always choose to deliver the news in person. I begin collecting money shortly after school begins in the fall when most wallets are still feeling the pain from shopping for school supplies. I explain the kindergarten fee to the families at Parent Night during the second week of school and I have found that most parents appreciate my direct candor.
Explain the Reasons for a Class Fee
If you are considering the launch of a grade level fee, you probably have a good reason for doing so. Explain to parents why you feel a need to implement a class fee. In my case, I clearly explain that previous families were paying this same amount over the course of the year. It was inconvenient for the parents and myself. With a class fee, parents only have to pay money one time and it is one less thing they have to worry about through the school year.
Show Parents What their Students will Receive in Return
Assure families that their fee money will come directly back to the students. I always have extra samples on-hand of some of the goods that their child will receive throughout the year. Since I have purchased the same type of materials each year, this task is easy for me. I display my own class t-shirt, a graduation sash from a previous year and an extra copy of National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine.
If you don’t have sample products on-hand, you can always show a quick slideshow with photos of the items their child will receive. It truly makes a difference in parent perception of a class fee.
In my classroom, the Kindergarten Fee also funds our Mother’s Day Tea Party and parent Christmas gifts. Since the details of those items are intended to be a surprise for parents, I don’t display artifacts or photos from previous gifts or tea party decorations. Those events merely receive a quick mention.
Inform Parents of Items that are Not Included in the Fee
Some families may naturally assume that a one-time fee will cover EVERY expense throughout the school year. Clearly state that some events are not included in the grade level fee. Examples from my own classroom include yearbooks, field trips, and school-wide collections (such as our monthly bagel day).
Be Sensitive to Each Family’s Financial Limitations
Back to school is an expensive time of year for families. After stocking up on new clothes and school supplies, there may not be very much money left in the budget for families to suddenly shell out an extra $25 for the classroom. Be sensitive to this fact. I always give parents a full month to pay the fee for my classroom. Given enough notice (two complete pay cycles) to start saving, families will feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed by the news of paying an unanticipated classroom fee.
For some families, the money simply does not exist in their budget at this time. It may never exist in their budget. Especially if the parents have twins or triplets in the same grade level. It’s important to be sensitive to those family’s needs as well. Make it clear that the fee is not mandatory and that families are welcome to privately contact you if they are unable to pay the classroom fee. (In which case, their child would still receive all of the materials – the class budget would just be slightly smaller).
Put it in Writing
Draft a letter about your upcoming fee to classroom parents. I usually send the note home the same night as my parent presentation. Copy the note on brightly colored paper so it is not easily overlooked. Families are more likely to remember and pay the fee in a timely fashion if your letter grabs their attention.
Don’t copy the note on red paper – red is an aggressive color 🙂
Convenience Pays Off
Make it as easy as possible for parents to pay your grade level fee. Staple a pre-labeled envelope directly to your letter explaining the fee. Include the amount of the fee, due date, and a space for the child’s name on the envelope. Make sure the envelope also clearly states that it is for the classroom fee.
Free Printables to Get You Started
Are you ready to institute a yearlong fee in your classroom? You can download a sample fee letter from my own classroom and labels to get you started from my TpT store. Both items are Word documents so you can easily edit the pages to fit your own needs.
Do you collect money from parents during the school year? Leave a comment with your best tricks of the trade. I would love to read them!