UPDATE, March 13, 2013: Today, according to a report by Kathryn Baron on EdSource, the state Board of Education "starts the process of setting regulations for reimbursing students who were illegally charged for activities/curriculum fees in the past year." [See full history of AB 1575 below.]
Public schools must provide the clay used in art class, but they can charge a student for taking home his or her finished sculpture. Playing sports is considered part of the educational mission, so schools have to cover all the costs – including uniforms – but attending a game is just for fun so students can pay admission. And schools can ask – even plead – for donations, but can’t require them in order for students to participate in a certain class or activity...
March 1, 2013: Today's the deadline for school districts to "draw up procedures for parents to complain" about schools charging them for educational activities. As reported on KPPC radio:
...The guidelines should provide parents and students a modified uniform complaint process so concerns can be resolved at the local level, without costly litigation. The deadline was established in AB 1575 signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last fall....
The American Civil Liberties Union/Southern California has a sample form that students and parents may use to file complaints.
October 1, 2012: Governor Brown has signed AB 1575 into law, and it will go into effect on January 1. (For links to full history of this bill, read beyond the jump.) As summarized this morning on EdSource by Kathryn Baron:
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.
June 27, 2012: Superintendents would not be required to audit their schools to ensure compliance with state law that forbids fees being charged for a child's education. Legislators removed the mandate from AB 1575 by Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), days before it passed 50-22 in the Assembly on May 31.
(Read below for previously reported details on AB 1575.)Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in October 2011 over concerns about the mandatory audits.
The Senate Education Committee will discuss and possibly vote on the bill in Sacramento today.
Corey Johnson reported on the proposed legislation changes for California Watch:
Instead of requiring audits, the bill will task the California Department of Education with developing a guide that specifies legal and illegal school charges. The education department would publish the fee guide on its website and provide copies to schools during the 2013-14 school year.
In addition, parents would receive annual notices about the types of fees that are illegal and instructions on how to challenge improper charges using the school's complaint process. The bill stipulates that districts must resolve complaints within 30 days. If necessary, parents can appeal the local decision all the way to the State Board of Education.
The legislative tweaks come as the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) and the state remain locked in a dispute over how the illegal fees lawsuit, Doe v. State of California, should proceed. (Read below for details).
The ACLU has filed thousands of pages of document summaries, school curriculum manuals, screenshots of fee charges, a grand jury report and news stories featuring school district officials discussing fees. But state education board and education department lawyers said the state is unaware of any illegal fees and called the ACLU evidence "hearsay."
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kenneth Freeman ordered the two sides to continue talking and notify him by July 9 of any agreement on how the allegations will be researched and argued. The ACLU and the state are slated to talk again by phone this week.
March 30, 2012: AB 1575, the bill that would ensure schools don't charge illegal fees for textbooks, sports, music and art equipment that place an unnecessary burden on low-income students, passed in a 6-3 vote by the state Assembly Education Committee last week, reports California Watch. The measure is currently headed to the Committee on Appropriations.
Oppoents of the bill, including by the Association of California School Administrators and the California Association of School Business Officials, say it would increase the financial burden on already-struggling public schools.
That argument picked up steam as Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner, R-Irvine, asked if the bill was too similar to a previous one that Gov. Jerry Brown killed for "going too far."
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, questioned the bill's suggested process for complaint resolution. Buchanan also voiced concerns that the repayment requirement would be too harsh for some schools that simply might have made a mistake. She ultimately withheld her vote.
"Children are entitled to a free and appropriate education," Buchanan said. "I just want to make sure we are dealing with it in a fair and rational manner. … School districts are under really hard times right now."
February 6, 2012: Spurred on by the decision last week by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl J. West (see below), determing that the state is ultimately responsible for enforcing a child's right to a free education , Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced AB 1575 to put in place a compliance and complaint procedure ensuring that schools do not charge illegal fees. As reported by Ashley Mcgone of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Lara's bill is similar to AB 165 that Brown vetoed in October 2011; the strategy assumes that if the AB 1575 passes the Legislature that, under pressure from the class-action suit that is moving forward through the judicial system, Brown will sign AB 1575 into law.
January 28, 2012: Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl J. West allowed the class action lawsuit, Doe v. State of California, to move forward on Thursday; the suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and attorneys from the law firm Morrison & Foerster on behalf of the two students and their families, reports Howard Blume of the LA Times.
The basis of the lawsuit is that it is the right of every child to have access to a free education; it claims that school districts illegally charged fees for textbooks or sports, music and art equipment, and names Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the State Board of Education as defendants.
The State had filed a motion requesting the case be dismissed on the principle that it is the school district officials that "have the power and authority to cure the alleged problems” and are ultimately responsible for enforcing the law and not the State administrators.
From the LA Times:
L.A. Superior Court Judge Carl J. West did not rule on the merits of the case, but concluded that the suit should go forward.
“The state itself bears the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure that its district-based system of common school provides basic equality of educational opportunity,” he wrote, quoting a court's ruling in a 1992 case.( Butt v. State of California)
The suit was tentatively settled by then-Gov. Schwarzenegger in December 2010 on the condition that there be a legislative remedy to stop schools charging illegal fees. Governor Brown's subsequent veto of the bill, AB165, reactivated the lawsuit.
In the motion to dismiss, the state had ironically argued that the defendants should seek a legislative not a judicial remedy to resolve the issue.
Written for California's Children by Elizabeth J Carlyle.
Photo credit: Alex Slobodkin