Author Archive

How will AB 165 affect your school district?

June 30, 2011

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.


Sustaining Advocacy on a Local Level

February 16, 2010

By Joe Landon, Policy Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

When I joined the Alliance as its policy director in 2006, they were savoring the hard earned victory that led to California’s historic investment in arts education, including the one time block grant shared with physical education, as well as the ongoing “Arts and Music” categorical funding.

But even then, the Alliance’s concern was shifting toward the question of how to sustain advocacy at the local level, where crucial decisions made by local school boards  determine the quality, equity, and access of arts education in that school district.

When last year the state legislature gave local districts the ‘flexibility’ to spend the Arts and Music Block grant on whatever programs they considered most essential, the Alliance had already embarked on a project to build a local advocacy network in communities and districts throughout the state.

In the first year of this pilot program, we selected ten sites throughout the state, reflecting diverse communities, geographical areas and economic conditions. Our goal was to gather the expertise around what would be required to foster an ongoing coalition of local leaders who share a commitment to build public understanding and support for the critical role of arts education in the development of every student.

True to its name, the California Alliance believes in the unique strength that grows from an alliance of diverse stakeholders. The local coalitions represent a cross section of community interests, including business, community, education and arts organizations. Their united message is intended to convey the myriad ways in which an investment in arts education is an investment in the well being of the larger community.

Although there have been communities throughout the country where there was a sustained effort to organize arts education advocates, there is no precedent for a statewide effort to capture local advocacy. This is challenging work, in the best of times, coming in from a distance to help unite and focus the natural support that exists for arts education in a community.

Right now schools districts around the state are feeling tremendous pressure to scale down services to meet budget cuts. We’ve been here before and we know what happens. We need to fight to protect arts education and that means building coalitions from the ground up in every school district.

This week we’re kicking off a series of ten new local alliances in Orange and San Diego Counties. We look forward to spreading this work throughout the state, providing the support and strategies that local alliances need to advocate effectively for arts education.

Theatre & Dance Credentialing: The Time is Now

October 7, 2009

Recently, Kathy Lynch, the Alliance’s legislative advocate, and I met with the California State Commission on Teacher Credentialing. After taking input from professional dance and theatre instructors from across California, we wanted to make the case for separate credentialing of dance and theatre instructors. Why? Because until we treat all four arts disciplines – visual art, music, theatre, and dance – as distinctive disciplines with their own methods and modes of learning, California students are missing out on the full benefits of arts learning under the guidance of professional, highly qualified instructors.

Ever since around 1970, there has been no single subject credentialing for dance and theatre teachers in California. The impact has been that while 88% of secondary music teachers and 84% of visual arts teachers meet the standards for being “highly qualified” in their respective fields, only 36% of dance teachers and 55% of theatre teachers are similarly qualified.

The Alliance often frames our goals in terms of quality, equity and access to arts education.  The debate over teacher credentialing goes to the heart of what we mean when we talk about access. Without professional credentials in these two arts disciplines, fewer teachers pursue the fields of dance and theatre. Many talented prospective teachers have left the state to acquire necessary training in their field, or abandoned that career path altogether rather than take on the burdensome and extraneous requirements of English or physical education credentialing.

In other states, the establishment of theatre and dance credentials has increased the demand for such credentials, the number of students pursuing arts education, the quality of instruction and the demand for such classes in schools (this according to the Senate Office of Research). Moreover, federal law (“No Child Left Behind”) requires that visual and performing arts be taught by “highly qualified teachers”. For all of these reasons, California must consider establishing single subject credentials in theatre and dance.

While we fully recognize the economic challenges our state currently faces, we believe the time has come to begin the process that will lead to the establishment of single subject credentials in the subjects of theatre and dance. At the national level, these credentials would meet the requirement of highly qualified teachers in all core subject areas, including the arts. At the state level, the credentials would deliver on our own established state policies and standards.

But perhaps most important: the establishment of these credentials would help enable California’s students to receive the full benefit of quality theatre and dance education.

The Alliance will continue to work with other education partners in the months ahead to build consensus through collaboration around this issue, and complete the promise of bringing complete standards-based education to all California students.