How will AB 165 affect your school district?


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.


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.


11 Responses to “How will AB 165 affect your school district?”

  1. Gerry Says:

    What about out of town overnight trips for bands and orchestras to music festivals, parades, etc.? They’re expensive and covering them with fundraising efforts is a challenge. If donations fall short, will we be able to ask parents to fill in the gaps?

  2. Sally Smith Says:

    The law is simple. Nobody has to donate or fundraise. Those who choose to fundraise must do so for the entire group, nor just one’s child. Check out Capital Gymnastics v. IRS Commissioner which is currently being litigated about individual student accounts. If there is not enough money for everyone to go, then nobody goes . It’s the law. It behooves the adults to set attainable goals and be realistic about planned activities. Read Education Code 35330(b)(1) No group shall be authorized to take a field trip or excursion by this section if a pupil who is a member of an identifiable group will be excluded from participation in the field trip because of lack of sufficient funds.

    • sfhs Says:

      How does one go about getting a refund for an extremely large amounts of money paid for cheerleading? The district new this was illegal and yet continued to collect from parents who couldn’t afford it, but how could they tell their child no.

      • Gerry Says:

        Interesting question. Should you be successful in procuring a refund, and assuming you deducted those expenses on your tax returns, would you also be required to file amended returns for those years and pay the tax due or would you just have to report the refund as taxable income in the year in which you receive the refund? I would guess that latter but don’t know.

      • jimluxJim Says:

        Funny you should mention cheerleading. That is specifically the activity covered in the leading court case decades ago: Hartzell v. Connell. Most districts have a claims mechanism in place (typically what’s called a “Williams Claim”)

  3. fund raising parent Says:

    One’s right to a free and appropriate education has always been the mantra for public schools. However when the economy has forced many school districts to cut back so much, the free and appropriate curriculum looks very spartan.

    Step in the parents to pay for more (sports, field trips, school facility improvements, etc). These programs are costly but often the needed monies are spread out fairly as fees. Parent groups are not making any profit. Most times, “quiet scholarships” were made to accommodate those who could not afford the fees.

    Fees will not be allowed and donations now will be elicited. The problem is that the few that do donate will have to make up for the many who will now choose not to. Many of the fees collected are really not much (two or three McDonald meals), but giving individuals the option of paying nothing will result in the disappearance of many of these enrichment activities. A few may not be able to make up the fair share of many.

    Schools with higher parent participation, usually elementary, will continue to sell the gift wrap and cookie dough. High schools will certainly have more problems.

  4. Sibyl O'Malley Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses! Glad to see this topic was of interest.

  5. Dan Molinari Says:

    Among a myriad of other successful school programs, the representatives who voted to pass AB165 killed many elementary instrumental music programs. Long Beach Unified, a district that ran one of the best elementary music programs in the state, cancelled their elementary string program because they didn’t have the funds to purchase the musical instruments as required by AB165.

    At the elementary level a child’s mind is wide open to new ideas – much more at this time than when they reach middle or certainly at the high school. This is why there has always been greater participation at the elementary level. Elementary music has always been the “feeder program” for middle and high school music. Student participation is high when a music program is offered as curriculum. Offer it before or after school and a school districts sees a 95% or more drop in participation. That’s 5 out of 100 that would have participated in music if it were offered as curriculum. Participation is not enough to pay a teacher and it surely isn’t going to generate enough students for the middle or high school bands and orchestras.

    In the short run, the net result of AB165 will be elementary teachers out of work and thousands young minds not exposed to the enjoyment of music. In the long run, middle and high school teachers will be let go due to lack of student participation. Not to mention music retailers that have supplied students will rental instruments and supplies. They too will be a part of history.

    Many studies have been done relating music to successful achievement in school. I guess we can afford to hobble our students once again with this bill. Although AB165 makes sense on one level – it doesn’t on many others. It would have been nice if our representatives gave more thought to this bill before passing it.

    But Wait! It’s not too late. All you rep’s have to do is pass an amendment to the law making it “OK to Play”….. Well – maybe not – that would be too easy!

  6. Joel Covarrubias Says:

    I do appreciate the intent of this bill. Unfortunately, this bill, in trying to help and protect those students in greatest need, has been a disaster for music instruction for the rest of us.

    In the past, music students in Long Beach USD provided their own instruments for practice and instruction. Now, the instruments must be provided by the school. But of course, our schools barely have money for music instructors, let alone instruments for everybody. The result is that music instruction has been drastically curtailed to a bare minimum. Specifically: music is no longer available for third-grade students, only violin is available for fourth graders, and winds are only available to fifth graders.

    I hope that my district will implement a voluntary program to collect money for instruments, so that instruction can be revived for our children.

  7. Iwouldgetfired iftheyknew Says:

    Music is obviously impacted. However, any subject that has a field trip is also impacted and the aggregate is very harmful to students.

    For example, we have taken our science students to an amusement park each year to enrich their physics knowledge. They took measurements, did calculations, and had a good time doing so.

    For this, students had to pay a deeply discounted ticket price. The few students who wished to go on the trip and who couldn’t afford it were discreetly allowed to go, their tickets usually paid for out of the teacher’s pockets.

    Now, despite the veto, the word has come down that we cannot charge direct fees for anything. All we can do is fund-raise in general, and it is quite clear that any parent who wishes to pay nothing can do so and still expect their student to receive all the benefits funded by the paying parents.

    The result is that our field trip has been cancelled. Teachers cannot take the risk of being left with a bill for thousands of dollars worth of tickets if parents fail to come up with the money. The students will now sit in their classroom and watch a video about roller coasters.

    I hope that the proponents of this lawsuit and bill are proud of themselves. What they have done is guarantee that every student receives a basic level of education, and no more,

  8. Jose Says:

    How does this apply to outside tutoring, which in our district the kids who get good grades all get? Ie, a child who goes to outside of school tutoring does well in class and gets good grades, but a child who cannot afford such tutoring services ends up with a bad grade and no real learning.

    How will AB 165 address this ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: