Gov. Jerry Brown has approved legislation that settles a lawsuit over public schools illegally charging students for educational activities and materials such as textbooks, exams, and field trips.

Assemblymember Ricardo Lara (D-South Gate)

AB 1575, introduced by Assemblymember Ricardo Lara (D-South Gate), resolves Jane Doe and Jason Roe v. The State of California. The class action lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in Sept. 2010, accused state education officials of operating by “winks and nods” as “public school districts blatantly violated the free school guarantee” in the State Constitution.

That refers to Article IX, Sec. 5 of California’s Constitution, which states: “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.”

In the legal depositions, students described being singled out and humiliated by teachers for being unable to pay the fees. The student plaintiff known as Jane Doe said her sophomore Spanish teacher wrote the names of the students who had not yet bought their textbooks on the white board so everyone in the class knew who couldn’t afford the books.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West suspended the lawsuit last year, pending the outcome of an earlier Lara bill, AB 165. The governor vetoed that measure, saying it “goes too far” because it would have mandated “that every single classroom in California post a detailed notice and that all 1,042 school districts and over 1,200 charter schools follow specific complaint, hearing, and audit procedures, even where there have been no complaints, let alone evidence of any violation.”

Although Lara’s new bill still includes some of those provisions, including the establishment of a complaint process, the Assemblyman removed a section that established deadlines for superintendents to monitor all their schools for illegal fees, hold public hearings, and reimburse students and their families. Superintendents and school boards opposed those measures as being too time-consuming.

AB 1575 defines a student fee as any charge or deposit that students and their families have to pay “as a condition for registering for school or classes, or as a condition for participation in a class or an extracurricular activity, regardless of whether the class or activity is elective or compulsory, or is for credit.” However, it does allow schools to ask for voluntary contributions.

The bill also requires the State Department of Education to develop guidelines for schools, districts, and county offices of education, and to post them on the Department’s web site.

Brooks Allen, Director of Education Advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California and one of the attorneys on the “Doe v. California” case, commended the governor for signing the amended version of the bill. “AB 1575 will provide the necessary guidance, notice, and accountability currently lacking in our educational system to identify and address unconstitutional school fees,” said Allen.


Filed under: Equity issues, Featured, Jerry Brown, K-12 Reform, Legislature and Bills, Reporting & Analysis, State and Federal Policies · Tags: , ,

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  1. Question Asker says:

    Answering some of my own questions:

    The bill states that a pupil fee includes:

    (3) A purchase that a pupil is required to make to obtain
    materials, supplies, equipment, or uniforms associated with an
    educational activity.

    So… Is Football an educational activitiy?

  2. Question Asker says:

    So… the article mentions “fees” or “deposit”.
    Can a school require a student to bring these non-fee things?

    a) a pencil to class?
    b) a properly certified helmet (to football practice and games)?
    c) an iPad to class?

    Can a school require that homework be completed using a computer?

    Can a school require that a student bring an agendabook to school purchased from Staples?

  3. Gary Ravani says:

    I would suggest that ACLU of S CA think seriously about redeeming its progressive credentials and cutting its ties to the neo-liberals it has recently embraced. That could include filing a suit to find the 2/3rds requirement (i.e., Prop 13) to raise taxes as unconstitutionally restricting the rights of CA’s students to quality public education . Without the funding to do so many schools will have to do without “art, music, science, computers, computer instruction, intervention, libraries, librarians, phys ed, copiers, and supplies,” etc. And when the schools do without, obviously, so do the kids. That is, some kids, in less affluent areas. And that’s what’s “unconstitutional.”

  4. CLM says:

    I am a parent and an administrator. I have seen firsthand programs on the chopping block because of requirements or the lack there of to comply. I have also seen my district receive more money for free & reduced (lower income) students than what the district had been receiving in previous years. As a parent I want to provide my child with every opportunity possible. Whatever I can do to assist I will do, just as these PTSA organizations have been doing. Where I am frustrated is when the districts (not mine, but my son’s) give up on finding solutions to keep programs. It is very easy to use regulation to avoid doing or not doing something, finding a solution takes much effort and dedication.

  5. el says:

    A big fundraiser for our school is about $2000.

  6. Navigio says:

    Yes, what El said is exactly right. The tragedy is when one sees studies that claim low poverty schools (f&r below 33%) raise an average of over $100k per year while high poverty schools (f&r above 66%) raise an average of $5k a year. Think that would impact the extent to which the community can backfill need.

  7. Navigio says:

    Thanks Kathy. Unfortunately there is no right to a quality education, rather just something the legislature calls education. Having a general elementary teacher cover science topics in class an hour a week is probably sufficient to qualify for providing science. Having a separate room for science, perhaps even raising money to have a dedicated teacher and supplies to do actual experiments is something quite different.
    The law in question is targeted toward differential access (ie can’t deny one kids something they can’t pay for while another who can pay gets it). That means districts will likely remove the program altogether to comply since the bar is not one of quality. Our district removed the assumption that libraries were a necessity a few years back. Do now they no longer fund them. Intervention is nice, but I’ve never seen a requirement for it. Our district doesn’t pay for buses for field trips so if you want to take one, ask the PTSA to fund it. If they dont have the money? Again, never seen a requirement for field trips. They’re useful, but heck, they cost money. One reason that is not a problem with the issue from this law is that it does not prohibit poor kids from going on a field trip if they can’t pay for it. Rather no one gets to go if the parents can’t. That’s actually legal.
    Hope that clarifies a bit. Sorry, on a cell phone.

  8. el says:

    I assume what navigio is saying is that the state is not providing adequate funding to schools, and that parent groups are picking up the slack for a lot of programs that we should consider basic and included. So we don’t obligate any family to pay for a field trip, but we do ask for donations. PTSOs are supporting actual salaried staff members, or are volunteering in lieu of paid staff, to try to keep some of these programs for our kids. This is within the law and it should be… but the state should be giving schools enough money to have fripperies like librarians in the first place, without parent fundraising.

    I’d rather volunteer to buy the nitrile gloves for the science classroom than have them unable to do labs or to force the teacher to do so out of pocket, but it’s pretty sad when we have to rely on parents supplying something so bloody ordinary.

  9. Kathy Baron says:

    Navigio, My understanding is that any of those fees that are part of the educational programs of the school are not permissible. This would include art, music, science, computers, computer instruction, intervention, libraries, librarians, phys ed, copiers, and supplies. You may want to run this by the ACLU of Southern California.

  10. Navigio says:

    Public school is no longer free and hasn’t been for a while. In our district parents pay for art, music, science, computers, computer instruction, intervention, libraries, librarians, physical education, copiers, supplies, food, transportation and probably 20 other things I’ve forgotten. It’s only free for people who can’t afford those things. But then, that’s not really an education, is it?