About a year ago, the New York Times reported that schools that used to simply require students to bring in glue, scissors, and crayons are now demanding that families provide everything from paper towels to garbage bags to liquid soap. Budget cuts had pushed schools so far, they couldn’t afford paper for printers or plastic cutlery for cafeterias.

As it turns out, the consequences of these education cuts are growing increasingly severe. Not only are students being asked to bring in supplies, they’re also facing steep fees for classes and activities that have always been free.

Karen Dombi was thrilled when her three oldest children were picked for student government this year — not because she envisioned careers in politics, but because it was one of the few programs at their public high school that didn’t charge kids to participate.

Budget shortfalls have prompted Medina Senior High to impose fees on students who enroll in many academic classes and extracurricular activities. The Dombis had to pay to register their children for basic courses such as Spanish I and Earth Sciences, to get them into graded electives such as band, and to allow them to run cross-country and track. The family’s total tab for a year of public education: $4,446.50. […]

Public schools across the country, struggling with cuts in state funding, rising personnel costs and lower tax revenues, are shifting costs to students and their parents by imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.

At high schools in several states, it can cost more than $200 just to walk in the door, thanks to registration fees, technology fees and unspecified “instructional fees.”

These are, just to be clear, public schools we’re talking about. The fees come on top of money locals already pay in taxes.

There have always been fees for some activities such as field trips and driver’s ed classes. But as school budgets get squeezed past the breaking point, the list of opportunities that are now expensive includes almost everything. Want to join the school choir? That’ll be $200. Maybe the chess club? That’ll be $350. You now qualify for the National Honor Society? Congratulations. Now bring in a check for $200 or you won’t be listed.

Maybe a young person is thinking ahead and wants to take some AP classes. Surprise, those cost extra, too.

Many schools are now letting families pay these fees by credit card — after a processing fee, of course.

Welcome to Austerity in America. We can afford tax breaks for millionaires, but can’t afford to let kids take Honors English for free.

In Washington, Republican policymakers are responding to these conditions by trying to cut education funding even more, while GOP officials in many states are now trying to shift funds to private schools when they’re not going after teachers’ unions.

Maybe education can be a sleeper issue in 2012?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.