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If education is 'free,' why so much cost?

I'm thinking of sending my kids to a private school. Public school is getting too expensive.

Last week, it was a request for money from each of the twins because the French class they're taking is college-level and Niagara University is involved and it could be worth three credit hours even if they don't go to Niagara, and, oh, for the love of God, just get me the checkbook.

The day before, it was a new swimsuit for the daughter on the swim team who has something like eight of them, which led to the discussion, again, that I might be the only human left on the planet who manages with just one swimsuit.

The previous week, it was a down payment for the orchestra trip to Chicago -- after the trip to Boston two years ago that was even more expensive. (I would mention here that my one swimsuit and I have never been to either Chicago or Boston, with or without an orchestra, but what's the point?)

School pictures. Team pictures. Locker shelves. Warm-up suits. Hooded sweat shirts. Activity nights. Homecoming. Music books. Yearbooks. Book fairs. Shin guards. Swim goggles. Driver ed fee. Musical instrument rental fee. AP exam fee. PSAT fee.

What are my school taxes paying for exactly?

You come to expect a certain level of expense when you have school-age children. They do need things, just not the things they think they need. I'm not sure any person actually needs to download Jonas Brothers songs. But as a parent of growing, active children, you know that you will have to spend money to meet some of their needs.

This would include the expenses we come to dread in August and September for new clothes and school supplies, although some of the things we are told to purchase are absurd. You can't tell me that every student really can't make it through the year without a new pencil box. Also, I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a 1-and-1 1/1 6-inch-thick three-ring binder.

The scourge of school supply costs at least gets a little attention. About a year ago, East Aurora discussed whether it could somehow reduce the number of back-to-school supplies kids had to have. And a Depew mother got some publicity when she told her school board that the supply list was becoming ridiculous. Neither seemed to affect the lines at Office Max this year.

All this money coming out of my pocket for my children's "free" education also doesn't include the fundraising requests for virtually everything. This one is selling candy bars, that one is selling frozen pies; this one has discount cards for use at 15 stores and restaurants I never go to, that one has raffle tickets.

Thank God for grandparents and accommodating neighbors and co-workers, who will be selling Girl Scout cookies or magazine subscriptions soon, anyway.

In theory, fundraisers are held to alleviate the cost of things for parents, but if that's the case, why do I end up with a freezer full of French bread pizza? I don't even like French bread pizza. Much.

These hidden, during-the-year costs have prompted some parents in a Washington, D.C., suburb to organize and fight. An article in the Washington Post noted that their efforts came after a story a year earlier about how a Virginia mother borrowed against her car title to come up with $260 in school fees.

I haven't quite gotten there yet. Then again, the school year has a long way to go.

In the meantime, could I interest you in some frozen pizza?
e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com1

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