Answer to a question from a reader

Are no-fee schools allowed to charge extra costs?

The short answer

"Voluntary donations" at no-fee schools are encouraged but not compulsory.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

My child's school is charging R300 per learner for the security of the school. This is a no-fee school. Are they allowed to charge us for this?

The long answer

The South African Schools Act states that no public school in any quintile may charge any registration, administration or other fee, except for school fees.

Schools in South Africa are ranked according to a quintile system, where the poorest schools are at quintile 1 and the richest at quintile 5. Quintiles 1, 2 and 3 schools are no-fee schools, and receive R1,170 per learner from the Department of Education.

But it is also generally agreed that schools need more money than the government provides, and so parents are urged to get involved in their children’s schools and take part in meetings like the Annual General Meeting (AGM), which discusses the school budget. 

Also, schools are mandated in the South African Schools Act (SASA) to raise funds through donations, fundraisers (learners’ involvement), parents, and functions.

The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 especially refers to fundraising, stating that it “imposes a responsibility on all public-school governing bodies to do their utmost to improve the quality of education in their schools by raising additional resources to supplement those which the state provides from public funds (section 36).”

“All parents, but particularly those who are less poor or who have good incomes, are thereby encouraged to increase their own direct financial and other contributions to the quality of their children’s education in public schools. The Act does not interfere unreasonably with parents’ discretion under the law as to how to spend their own resources on their children’s education.”

So there are two messages going out at the same time here: the one is that no extra fee can be charged by the school, and the other is that school governing bodies are encouraged to raise additional funds and motivate for donations from parents. Schools can ask for a “voluntary donation” to cover extra expenses and activities. For example, Ramoshidi High School, which is a quintile 2 school, says on its online page “there might be extra payable activities, trips or extra-curricular”.

This can lead to a situation in which the R300 that you are being asked to contribute, which might be called a “voluntary donation”, is not really voluntary. The problem is that parents who cannot afford to pay a “voluntary donation” may feel they have to come up with the money, in case their children are discriminated against.

But Ramoshidi High School also says on the same page: “A learner cannot be excluded from participation in any official school programmes due to non-payment of school fees and may not retain a learner’s report due to unpaid school fees.”

Because there isn’t enough money from the government to cover things like security, the school may feel it has no option but to ask for a “voluntary donation”.

Perhaps the best advice is to attend the governing school body’s meetings that are open to parents and get an open discussion going with other parents about it.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on March 23, 2022, 3:39 p.m.

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