Policy & Finance > Legislation

Governor signs off on bill ensuring free public education



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: Legislation, Reforms, State Education Policy

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24 Responses to “Governor signs off on bill ensuring free public education”

  1. KW said

    on August 27, 2013 at 8:57 am

    My daughter does attend a charter school and now this law has also affected her uniform policy. The school cannot dictate WHERE the uniforms are purchased, just what they look like. Now we have run into an issue where the school is dictating that navy blue shoes ( vans for instance) must have the white laces swapped out for navy ones! Doesn’t this violate some rule associated with article IX section 5??????

  2. Patty said

    on April 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Can schools charge dues for joining clubs and organizations such as Key Club, the high school division of Kiwanis International, or The California Scholarship Federation (C.S.F.)? These are voluntary after school clubs. Can these clubs then have mandatory fundraisers for those that decide to join?

  3. Rosie said

    on March 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    John, your question implies that the booster club decides who plays, and permits participation based on whether the player is fundraising or not. If that is happening, the school needs to wrest that control back from the boosters. Then the boosters would have no means to “force” anything.

  4. John said

    on March 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Mandatory fundraising hours requirement by booster clubs – Can a booster club force players to mandatory hours of fundraising. If a fundraising event is over, can the booster club force these players to make up other hours doing other activities such as clean ups, etc, not directly involved in a fundraising event. I heard fundraising must be voluntary, but also told by the district the booster club is in their right and clearly stated by the ACLU – yet they have not provided me with proof

  5. Elizabeth said

    on November 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Now that charter schools are part of the discussion — What about the charters which have an “expected donation” practice in which parents who don’t pay receive collection letters? The “donation” then is tantamount to tuition which the school adds to its allotment from California – a virtual voucher for charter parents to have just the school they want for their children.

  6. Gary Ravani said

    on October 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Mr. Leyba:

    Private school enrollment has been shrinking for some time in the state of CA, as it has nationally. It was never more than about 10% of the student population. As I recall the Catholic parochial school system is shedding enrollment the quickest.

    Charter schools are, of course, public schools even though some of them have private management.

    I have to assume charters will have to live by the same rule as other schools re requiring fees for “school” activities. That being said, charters do manage in a number of cases to skate by requirements to serve children with disabilities and, lately, the requirement to provide Transitional Kindergarten. Charter schools also, typically don’t provide the range of activities that might be subject to a “fee” as regular public schools do, therefore, they may escape some of the consequences of the law. Charters also tend to attract considerable support from the private sector and foundations that “regular” public schools do not get.

  7. el said

    on October 2, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Schools can still ask for voluntary contributions and I expect they will still do so. Our local high school had a group of kids organize and ask for a new sports team; they went out and did the fundraising for a big chunk of it and found parent volunteers and everyone agreed on simple uniforms (t-shirts and shorts). The key is you can’t give any individual a quota.

  8. John S. Leyba said

    on October 2, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Well good job, educational establishment! Remaining decent public schools left will lose their “extras,” and even more kids will go to private schools and charters. More “case studies in the law of unintended consequences….”

    • Navigio replied

      on October 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Or intended ones…

  9. Navigio said

    on October 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    John/Kathy,, there was a pretty good discussion on toped a while back that I felt did a good job of defining what counts as a fee and what doesnt. There are some exceptions if I recall. A link to that mIght be helpful at this point.

    • Kathy Baron replied

      on October 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      Hi, I looked through our past articles at TOP-Ed and here’s one with a lot of comments that may be what you’re referring to. http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/09/14/priceless-the-cost-of-free-public-education/

      Also, the bill itself, AB 1575, has a detailed description of the fees which I’ve pasted below.

      49010. For purposes of this article, the following terms have the
      following meanings:
      (a) “Educational activity” means an activity offered by a school,
      school district, charter school, or county office of education that
      constitutes an integral fundamental part of elementary and secondary
      education, including, but not limited to, curricular and
      extracurricular activities.
      (b) “Pupil fee” means a fee, deposit, or other charge imposed on
      pupils, or a pupil’s parents or guardians, in violation of Section
      49011 and Section 5 of Article IX of the California Constitution,
      which require educational activities to be provided free of charge to
      all pupils without regard to their families’ ability or willingness
      to pay fees or request special waivers, as provided for in Hartzell
      v. Connell (1984) 35 Cal.3d 899. A pupil fee includes, but is not
      limited to, all of the following:
      (1) A fee charged to a pupil 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.
      (2) A security deposit, or other payment, that a pupil is required
      to make to obtain a lock, locker, book, class apparatus, musical
      instrument, uniform, or other materials or equipment.
      (3) A purchase that a pupil is required to make to obtain
      materials, supplies, equipment, or uniforms associated with an
      educational activity.
      49011. (a) A pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be
      required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational
      activity.
      (b) All of the following requirements apply to the prohibition
      identified in subdivision (a):
      (1) All supplies, materials, and equipment needed to participate
      in educational activities shall be provided to pupils free of charge.

  10. el said

    on October 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Question Asker: Yes, Football counts as an educational activity.

  11. Question Asker said

    on October 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    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?

  12. Question Asker said

    on October 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    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?

  13. Gary Ravani said

    on October 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    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.”

  14. CLM said

    on October 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    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.

  15. el said

    on October 1, 2012 at 10:49 am

    A big fundraiser for our school is about $2000.

  16. Navigio said

    on October 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

    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.

  17. Navigio said

    on October 1, 2012 at 10:23 am

    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.

  18. el said

    on October 1, 2012 at 10:01 am

    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.

  19. Kathy Baron said

    on October 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

    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.

  20. Navigio said

    on October 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    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?

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