AB 165 Targets School Fees
AB 165, the Constitutional Free Public Education Guarantee, authored by Ricardo Lara, is currently moving through the legislature, having passed the Assembly by a 50-17 vote. It is now being heard in the Senate, and in all likelihood will end up on Governor Brown’s desk for his signature to make it law before the end of the year. The bill has implications for the delivery of arts education programs, potentially impacting the collection of fees for materials in visual arts classes, instrument rental for school bands or orchestras, etc. For that reason we wanted to provide some perspective on the bill’s content and suggestions as to how school districts and schools might respond to its restrictions if it becomes law.
Despite our concerns with regard to its enforcement if AB 165 is enacted into law, the Committee on Legislation for the California Alliance voted not to take a position on the bill. We recognize and support the principle of a free education for every student and encourage schools and districts to find compatible solutions to provide access to quality arts education.
Summary language, intended to capture the spirit of the bill, states,
“The bill would provide that this prohibition of fees is not to be interpreted to prohibit an entire school, class, sports team, or club from voluntarily participating in fundraising or to prohibit school districts and schools from providing pupils prizes or other recognition for voluntarily participating in fundraising activities.”
This would seems to create adequate flexibility to allow arts teachers and parent support groups to invite voluntary participation in the raising of needed funds.
An August 2010 investigation by the ACLU of Southern California uncovered a widespread practice among public school districts of charging students mandatory fees to participate in educational activities. For example, districts were requiring students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels in order to matriculate in academic courses.
In September 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of students alleging the fees violated the California Constitution’s free public education guarantee and discriminated against lower-income students by creating a “pay to learn” system that threatened the integrity of our state’s public education system. The ACLU and former Gov. Schwarzenegger announced a settlement to the case last December, requiring schools to fully reimburse families for any pay-to-play fees and granted parents the right to challenge any illegal fees through a state-based complaint process.
The intent of AB 165 is to codify that settlement. According to the author, “AB 165 will establish procedures that will help identify, eliminate, and prevent the charging of student fees in violation of a student’s constitutional right to a free public education.” In addition the author states that, “AB 165 will use existing accountability mechanisms to efficiently prevent and address any fees imposed on students as conditions of participation in educational activities.”
Guidelines for Districts and Schools
The Orange County Department of Education has issued guidelines to districts and schools on the use of appropriate language to be used in soliciting for funds for activities within the restrictions of the law. They are included below. If you have additional concerns or questions, contact your local school district.
I STUDENT FEES LANGUAGE California law does not allow school districts to charge fees to students for curricular and extracurricular activities. However, as you are aware, due to state budget cut backs, schools can no longer afford to fund many of these activities. Therefore, we are requesting voluntary donations from parents to offset the costs of these programs. Parents are not required to make donations and all students may participate in extracurricular activities regardless of whether their parents make a donation.
II. PHRASES THAT CAN BE INSERTED INTO EXISTING FORMS
1. You are not required to purchase any of these items.
2. Donations are voluntary and all students will be allowed to participate regardless of whether a donation is made.
3. A voluntary donation of $_____ is appreciated.
4. A $20 donation to the art department is appreciated to help offset costs for this program and to maintain the quality of the art program that we have at ____________________.
5. Students who participate in the after school sports program are encouraged to support a one-time sports program donation of $40, and a donation of $25 per season for bus transportation. The program donation will help to cover the cost of uniforms, equipment, coaches, and officials for the year. The bus transportation donation will help to cover the cost of transportation to the away games during the season of sport. 6. We appreciate any donations made to this program.