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AGO 1966 No. 113 - October 13, 1966
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑ SCHOOLS ‑ FEES ‑ TUITION ‑ SUPPLIES ‑ AUTHORITY OF SCHOOL DISTRICT TO CHARGE TUITION FEES OR TEXTBOOK FEES.

(1) A school district may not charge either a general tuition fee, or a special tuition fee for certain courses, for attendance at its elementary or secondary schools except as permitted by RCW 28.58.240, in the case of students who are not residents of the district.       

(2) Any class of school district may provide free textbooks and supplies to its students; a first class school district must do so when directed by the electors under RCW 28.62.180 (10); where a district does not provide free textbooks and supplies, it may require that these materials be purchased by, or for, the students at bookstores or other commercial retail outlets; however, the district cannot require students to purchase textbooks and materials from the district.           

(3) A school district which loans free textbooks and supplies to its students may charge a reasonable deposit fee to cover possible damage.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 13, 1966

Honorable Frank B. Brouillet
State Representative, 25th District
Chairman, Interim Committee On Education
University of Washington
3913 D 15th Avenue Northeast
Seattle, Washington 98105

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 113

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on several questions regarding the authority of a school district operating elementary and/or secondary schools to:

            (1) Charge either a general tuition fee, or a special tuition fee for certain required or elective courses;

            (2) charge fees for books and supplies, or, alternatively, require students to furnish supplies for elective and nonelective courses; and

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]   (3) to require deposits for damage to books and supplies provided by the district?

            We answer your questions, as thus paraphrased, in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            (1)General and Special Tuition Fees

            School districts, being municipal corporations, have only the powers expressly granted them by the legislature, those necessarily or fairly implied or incident to the powers granted, and those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the particular municipal corporation.  Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930); andJuntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P.2d 78 (1934).

            By statute the legislature has provided that all elementary and secondary schools operated and maintained by a school district shall be open to all children between the ages of six and twenty-one years who are residing in the district.  RCW 28.58.190.  No authority has been granted to the district to charge such children any tuition fee.1/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The only authority of a school district to charge tuition for attendance at its elementary or secondary schools2/ pertains to nonresident students who wish to attend a school in a district other than in the one in which they are residing.  As to such students, RCW 28.58.240 provides as follows:

            "Any board of directors may make arrangements with adults wishing to attend school or with the directors of adjoining districts for the attendance of children in the school district of either as may be best accommodated therein;in absence of an express arrangement therefor a reasonable tuition shall be paid.  Children from nonadjoining districts may also be permitted to attend upon payment of a reasonable tuition.  All tuition money must be paid over to the county treasurer within thirty days of its collection for the credit of the district.

            "Reimbursement of a high school district for cost of educating high school pupils of a nonhigh school district shall not be deemed a tuition charge as affecting the apportionment of current state school funds."3/   (Emphasis supplied.)

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that school districts do not have any authority to charge either a general or a special tuition fee to children for attendance at elementary or secondary schools of the district in which they reside.  As to nonresident students they may do so to the extent authorized by RCW 28.58.240,supra.

            (2)Textbooks and Supplies

            The general statutory authority granted to the boards of  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] directors of all classes of school districts governing textbooks and supplies is set forth in RCW 28.58.100.  This statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "Every board of directors,unless otherwise specially provided by law, shall:

            ". . .

            "(7) Providefree textbooks and supplies to be loaned to the pupils of the school,when in its judgment the best interests of the district will be subserved thereby, prescribe rules and regulations to preservesuch books and supplies from unnecessary damage and provide for the expenditure of a reasonable amount for suitable commencement exercises;

            "(8) Require all pupils to be furnished with such books as may have been adopted by the lawful authority of this state;

            ". . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Clearly, under this statute, the board of directors of every class of district (i.e., a first, second or third class school district) may "unless otherwise specially provided by law," determine, in the exercise of its discretion, whether it is in the best interest of the district to loan textbooks and supplies to students.  While there are no other pertinent statutes on this subject in so far as second and third class districts are concerned,4/ first class districts are specially governed by RCW 28.62.180.  The statute provides in pertinent part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "Every board of directors of a school district of the first class shall, in addition to the general powers enumerated in chapter XVII (XV) of this title have the power:

            ". . .

            "(10) To provide free textbooks and supplies for all children attending school,when so ordered by a vote of the electors; or if the free textbooks are not voted by the electors, to provide books for children of indigent parents, on the written statement of the city superintendent that the parents of such children are not able to purchase them."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            These two statutes, RCW 28.58.100 (7), supra, and RCW 28.62.180 (10), supra, were construed together in Hand v. School Dist. No. 1, 118 Wash. 439, 203 Pac. 940 (1922).  The court there concluded that if the people of the district, by proper election, order free school books to be furnished, the school board's discretionary power (in the case of a first class district) is removed and the district is required to so furnish free textbooks and supplies.

            Accordingly, we conclude that all classes of school districts have authority to loan textbooks and supplies to students when, in the best judgment of the governing board of directors,


            ". . . the best interests of the district will be subserved thereby, . . ." RCW 28.58.100 (7), supra.

            In the case of a first class district this permissive authority may become mandatory pursuant to a vote of the electors under RCW 28.62.180 (10),supra.  However, where the district (not having been directed to the contrary by its electors, in the case of a first class district) determines not to "loan" textbooks and supplies to its students it follows, in our opinion, that the district, under authority of RCW 28.58.100 (8), supra, may require that the students provide the same for their own use through purchase from such bookstores or other commercial retail outlets as carry the books and materials in question.  This requirement does not legally change the "free" characteristic  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] of our public schools.5/   However, the district cannot require students to purchase the same from the district.  AGO 51-53 No. 494.6/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            (3)Deposits for Textbooks and other Equipment Loaned to Students

            In the event that a board of directors of a school district has found that it is in the best interest of the district to loan textbooks and supplies to students pursuant to RCW 28.58.100 (7), supra, it may

            ". . . prescribe rules and regulations to preserve such books and supplies from unnecessary damage . . ."

            In AGO 61-62 No. 48, a copy of which is enclosed, we had occasion to discuss the general subject of "deposit fees" chargeable by school districts.  On the basis of that opinion, and particularly the case of Segar v. Board of Education of the School Dist. of the City of Rockford, 317 Ill. 418, 148 N.E. 289 (1925), cited therein, we believe areasonable deposit fee may be charged by a district to cover textbooks and supplies loaned to students.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

CHARLES F. MURPHY
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Of course, it has been generally accepted in this state that no tuition charge may constitutionally be charged to such students.  InSchool District v. Bryan, 51 Wash. 498, 99 Pac. 28 (1909), the court stated at page 504:

            ". . .a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity,free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            See, also,Segar v. Board of Education of the School Dist. of the City of Rockford, 317 Ill. 418, 148 N.E. 289 (1925); Vincent v. County Board of Education of Talladega County, 222 Ala. 216, 131 So. 893 (1931); Litchman v. Shannon, 90 Wash. 186, 155 Pac. 783 (1916); AGO 53-55 No. 350.

2/See, however, RCW 28.84.270, which fixes the tuition fee for attendance of students at community colleges.

3/We are enclosing a copy of AGO 61-62 No. 20 in which we had occasion to discuss this statute.

4/We have not overlooked the possible application of RCW 28.63.040 and RCW 28.63.042.  However, it is our opinion that these statutes simply require that the district provide the material and supplies necessary for operation of the school as opposed to supplies which may be necessary for students' use.  Any other construction would potentially create a conflict between the discretionary authority vested in the board by RCW 28.58.100 (7), supra, and the mandatory duty imposed by RCW 28.63.040 and RCW 28.63.042.

5/In Segar v. Board of Education of the School Dist. of the City of Rockford, 317 Ill. 418, 148 N.E. 289 (1925), the court stated at page 290:

            ". . . A system of schools, which permits all persons of school age residing in the district to attend classes and receive instruction in the subjects taught, without a tuition charge, provides free schools, and the fact that the parents of pupils financially able to do so are required to provide their children with text-books [[textbooks]], writing materials, and other suppliers required for the personal use of such pupils does not change the character of the school."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            See, also,Vincent v. County Board of Education of Talladega County, 222 Ala. 216, 131 So. 893 (1931).

6/This conclusion should not be confused with the authority for certain districts under adopted regulations to sell freely-supplied textbooks to a student upon certain conditions pursuant to RCW 28.23.050, which provides:

            "In any school district in the state of Washington in which free textbooks are provided by the district for all thechildren attending the schools thereof, the board of directors shall have the power to sell to any of said children, for cash, any of the textbooks used in said schools,under such regulations as said board may make, and at such price for each book so sold as the textbook commission of said district, or if the district is a second division district having no textbook commission, then at such price as the county board of education, may set as the then fair value of such book, but in no case at a greater price than the cost of said book to the district.  Provided, That no such sales of textbooks shall be made except on the voluntary application of the child wishing to purchase, which application must be madewhile such child is attending a school of said districtor within thirty days after his graduation therefrom."  (Emphasis supplied.)

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