Wearing a uniform was once the mark of private school attendance. Now public and charter school students are suiting up as well.  But do the uniforms have to be so expensive?


Photo by the author.

About 3 out of 4 DCPS schools now require uniforms, according to a DCPS spokesperson. Although there are currently no statistics available for charter schools, it’s clear that many if not most of them have their students wearing uniforms as well.

The benefits of such policies are well-documented. A study of urban high schools in Ohio found that while uniforms didn’t directly affect academic performance, they had a positive impact on attendance, graduation rates, and rates of suspension. Long Beach, California reported a dramatic increase in school safety after implementing a uniform policy in all K-8 schools.  As a teacher, I also observed some positive effects of having students wear uniforms, such as fewer distractions in the classroom and a shift in student focus away from physical appearance. 

Now, as a parent, I’m seeing the issue from a different angle. The problem for parents comes down to the cost of uniforms, and in some cases, the effort of procuring them.  My son’s private school requires students to purchase polo shirts with the school logo at a cost of $18.50 apiece, with an additional charge of $9.50 for shipping.  A friend had a similar experience when her children attended Community Academy, a public charter school.  Shirts plus pants plus shoes add up quickly, so I was not surprised to find that the average cost of school uniforms for parents is $249

The DCPS schools requiring uniforms that I have encountered generally have a more flexible policy than my son’s school or Community Academy. They dictate a specific color or two of polo shirt for students to wear, along with khaki bottoms.

This approach allows parents to shop around for affordable options. And according to DCPS regulations, students who do not wear a uniform because they can’t afford one are not subject to disciplinary action.  DCPS schools are also required to establish a mechanism for providing aid to students who cannot afford the uniform. 

Some DC charter schools, like KIPP DC and Mundo Verde, have an even easier, more affordable uniform strategy.  While these charters expect parents to independently provide pants, shorts, or skirts for their children, the schools contract for custom t-shirts that parents can purchase directly from the school at a low cost.  KIPP gives its students one shirt as a gift at orientation.  By providing the shirts directly, schools are also able to assist low-income families without extra steps like vouchers or reimbursement.

Parents, have you had any positive or negative school uniform experiences, either in DCPS or at a charter school?  Leave us a comment and tell us about them.

Lisa Runge was born in Illinois, but after 6+ years in DC, she considers herself a Washingtonian.  She made the circuit of DC schools as an elementary school teacher (public, parochial, charter, private) before settling into her current career of full-time mom of two and wife of one.  She lives in Eckington. She blogs at DiaryofaNearlyNewMom.com