Have You Applied for a Waiver of School Fees?

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


School fees can really add up. If you have more than one child in school, the fees can come to hundreds of dollars. Many parents have a hard time buying all the things their kids need. Fortunately, low-income families can ask that the school waive the fees.
The school should not be able to collect a fee if the fee is not authorized by Iowa law. This article will not deal with what fees are authorized. 

Low-income parents may be able to get fees waived.

The school should not be able to collect a fee if the fee has been waived. Fee waiver is the topic of this article.
Who can get fee waivers? 
By law (Part 281, Chapter 18 of the Iowa Administrative Code) the school must waive fees if the family is financially eligible for one of the following programs. The programs are:
  • free lunch 
  • FIP, or
  • transportation assistance under the open enrollment law.
In addition, if the student is in foster care, the fees should be waived. 
If the family qualifies financially for reduced price (rather than free) lunch, the family may still ask for a waiver of fees.
  • The school’s policy must either allow a full waiver of fees, or a partial waiver.
  • The law doesn’t say exactly how much the fees would be reduced if the school has opted for partial waiver of fees.
  • The law just says that a partial waiver shall be based on a sliding scale related to an ability to pay. 
In any case, fees waived are gone for good. They can’t be collected later. The parents can’t be sued for them. 
When can families apply? 
The application can be made at any time. Parents can also ask for a temporary waiver,
  • if the family has a temporary financial problem. 
  • If the primary language of the student or the family is not English, the school must provide a copy of the application materials in the student’s native language, or
  • arrange for a translation of the materials within a reasonable time.
What kinds of expenses are covered under the fee waiver? 
The items covered under this law are “course offerings” and “related activities,” as well as transportation.
  • The waiver would cover a fee for a class, and things connected to a class, such as a field trip.
  • It may also cover things like being in the band, or playing on an athletic team. If the school offers course credit for driver education, the expenses for driver education would seem to come under the fee waiver rule as well.
  • The fee waiver rule probably would NOT cover things like prom tickets or class rings. 
If the school does not waive fees, the family can appeal to someone the school board has designated.
  • If the answer is still no, the family may appeal the denial of the school district to the Director of the Department of Education.
  • The appeal to the Department of Education is done by filing a notarized (sworn) statement within 30 days of the day the denial is received.
  • The Department of Education will decide if what the school did was right.
Even if a family is not eligible for a fee waiver, the school is limited in what it can do to collect fees.
  • It would be a violation of the law for a school to take action against a student because of unpaid fees.
  • Parents, not students, are responsible for school fees. (If the student is 18 years old, it may be possible for the student to be responsible for payment of fees.)
  • About all the school can lawfully do is sue the parents in small claims court for the fees.
  • The school cannot refuse to give report cards, or keep the student from going through graduation ceremonies.
  • The school cannot refuse to let the student register for classes.
  • The school should not read the names of students whose fees are not paid, or post a list of names, or take other action to embarrass the student. 
For more information about school fees or other education problems, contact Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275 or visit the Iowa Legal Aid Website at www.iowalegalaid.org. 
  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at iowalegalaid.org

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 

Last Review and Update: Jul 18, 2023
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