A Texas mother trying to choose between schools asked her local school district for a list of required textbooks by grade. They billed her $1,267 for the information.
Jennifer Crossland told The Lion she was dumbfounded when she received the invoice from the Fort Worth Independent School District. She refused to pay it.
“Other schools – charter schools, private schools, home schools – they have these lists readily available,” she said.
The district’s bill was reportedly calculated by estimating 84.5 hours of labor to complete the request at a rate of $15 per hour.
Under Texas law, citizens have 10 days to challenge excessive fees with the state Attorney General’s Office, but Crossland ran out of time before having that opportunity.
Another mother in the district, Kristina West, requested similar information after removing her 8th-grade daughter due to a lack of transparency. She received the same response: $1,267.50 was needed to obtain the book list.
West, an attorney at Goldwater Institute American Freedom Network, filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office last week, claiming the charges were unreasonable and failed to comply with state law.
Texas law requires all public record fees to be “reasonable” and that all requests under 50 pages be limited to photocopying costs. Rules set by the attorney general say districts can charge the cost of labor “only if (1) there are more than 50 pages of copies, or (2) the information is kept in two or more separate buildings or in remote storage.”
“It is highly unlikely to the point of improbable that a list of required or suggested reading material – even for thirteen grade levels – surpasses 50 pages,” West’s complaint reads.
These cases are no outliers: schools across the country have been billing parents exorbitant fees for curriculum transparency requests.
“The public’s business should be open to the public – especially when it comes to the important work of educating students,” says the Goldwater Institute, a policy research and litigation organization backing the complaint. “Parents shouldn’t even need to file public records requests just to find out what’s being taught to their kids in taxpayer-funded schools.”
Crossland says parents should ask questions about public schools and pursue transparency.
“Most parents send their kids to [public] school thinking it has the best intentions,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s the case.”
Crossland said she’s still deciding where her daughter will attend school, though she knows one thing for sure: She “will not be going to Fort Worth Independent School District.”