When students in Abilene, Texas, return to class in six weeks they better not be caught using their cell phones.
No calls, no texting, no surfing the Web. If they slip up and are caught, they better be prepared to pay the price: confiscation of their cell phone until they pay a $15 fine. After the second offense, their parent must come in to pay the $15.
The fines are meant as a get-tough approach to what educators call an out-of-control use of phones and other mobile devices in the classroom. But in this economic downturn, the fees are bringing some much-needed revenue into the empty coffers of school districts.
Schools across the country have been cracking down on cell phone use but nowhere has that stance been stronger than in Texas where state regulations allow individual districts to confiscate the devices and charge up to $15 for their return.
Abilene is just one of the latest districts to toughen its stance.
Across the state at the Klein Independent School District teachers have been confiscating cell phones and slapping students with the $15 fee for two years.
In that time, the district has collected $100,948 from students. That's right, $100,948 just from errant cell phone users.
"I think that high number speaks volumes about students using their phones at inappropriate times," said Trazanna Moreno, spokeswoman for the district just north of Houston. "That number represents how much students are connected to that handheld, mobile technology and the fact that it's so hard for them to break that connection."
But don't think that the Klein district -- with its 42,789 students -- has found the solution to its budget concerns.
The money can only be used by the school principals for enrichment activities that go beyond what the school normally offers. That could be anything from a pizza party to reward students, to a prize auction for students who aren't tardy, to providing scholarships for students who need physical education uniforms or to buy supplies for an art class.
"Klein didn't start doing this as fundraiser. It did it to keep children focused," Moreno said. "None of the funds are being used to support everyday activities that are being paid for by the taxpayers. … None of the funds are used to fill a deficit or anything like that."
In fact, the district didn't budget the money or even know how much was coming in to its 39 schools from cell phone use until a reporter asked.
"I think it's safe to say we were surprised when we added it up," Moreno said.
She said that after two years it's unclear if there is a measureable impact on students using the phones in the classroom.
"It's just too early to tell," Moreno said.
For Donna Greenan, a parent at the Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas, the fees have become a big pain.
"I think it's a little bit too much," she said of the school's policy.
Both of her children have been caught about three or four times using their phones. Now when she comes in to pay the fines, she pays in pennies.
She and her kids will often text throughout the day. Her daughter was ecstatic over making National Honor Society and sent a message immediately.
Besides, she said, the cell phone usage policy is unfair, especially when "the teachers are using them in the classroom."
The Katy Independent School Distinct, west of Houston, forbid students from bringing phones to school in 2006.