Saturday, April 11, 2009

Illegal Fees In Schools

Just to make sure that we don't forget one of my favorite windmills at which to tilt, the following came from a mailing from the California Department of Education:

School fees, tuition and charges largely prohibited by state law
by Staff
Parents have become accustomed to teachers sending home pleas for help in paying for routine classroom supplies that education budgets no longer seem to cover. But in today’s severe economic times, some districts may be taking the notion of outside support to an extreme – and perhaps in some cases coming dangerously close to breaking state law. Given the tendency for districts to look for support wherever they can, it is important for fiscal managers to remember the rules. An existing opinion from the state attorney general specifically prohibits schools from charging for such things as: A tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment into any class or course of instruction. This includes summer school, for which there is no specific authorization for tuition and thus is prohibited. Membership fees as a condition of qualification for student athletics or any other curricular or extracurricular activity sponsored by the school. Even a minimal admission fee to attend a fair, exhibit or similar activity that is otherwise part of a school’s educational program is not permitted. Districts are reminded that Article IX, Section 5 of the California Constitution provides for a free school system: “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.” Subsequent opinions from the state’s Attorney General have also consistently said that school districts do not have authority to levy fees for any elective or compulsory class. Further, districts may not require security deposits for locks, lockers, books, class apparatus, musical instruments, uniforms or other equipment. A 1984 state Supreme Court ruling found that schools may charge fees for “recreational” but not “educational” activities. The court also said that extracurricular programs – such as after school sports and band – are considered an integral component of public education. The court also held that a fee-waiver policy for needy students does not supersede the laws prohibiting these types of fees and charges. Education Code does authorize some fees under some conditions including: transportation to and from school; food services; lost books or defaced school property. Charges for transportation costs of field trips may be imposed, although codes also say that no pupil can be prevented from taking a field trip because of a lack of funds. Education Code also states that paper, pens, ink and “other necessary supplies for the use of the schools shall be furnished under the direction of the governing board of the school district.” The Attorney General has interpreted that section to also mean that districts must provide art material for art classes and mechanical drawing sets; cloth for dressmaking classes and wood for carpentry shop; gym suits and shoes for P.E.; bluebooks for exams; and paper for essay assignments. (This article is complete.)


Stopped Clock said...

I believe something like this happened about 30 years ago in Massachusetts and probably a lot of other places. I think that by the time all the complaints got heard in court, the economic crisis of the time had subsided and the extracurricular programs became "regular" again.

Mrs. C said...

We don't get charged "fees" but we get a list of all the stuff each child needs for his classes. Pens, notebooks, whatever. But also things that are for the teacher like dry-erase markers and that sort of thing. Not a *huge* deal as I'm spending maybe $20 extra per kid at the beginning of the year.... I will say that while I don't begrudge the teacher the supplies, it bothers me that the school gets big millions in taxes, yet wants Mama to pay for kleenex, sport fees, class t-shirts and other items through the year. All told, I think it would be reasonable to say I'm spending $200 extra per public school child in addition to my taxes. You *think* you're getting away with spending $20 extra at the beginning... ha.

Meanwhile, the state investigation is ongoing into our school board and administration's "misappropriation" of funds. Methinks that is a fancy word for stealing my kids' dry eraser marker money. :p

Ellen K said...

So what about the tacit fees to participate in programs like cheerleading or drill team. The basic cost if over a thousand dollars, and that doesn't count the additional training, uniforms and expected cutesy stuff that goes on. It effectively cuts out anyone who cannot afford to participate. What about booster clubs that provide financial support for just their organization over all others? I have had parents walk right by a band support group and say "I don't support that group, I just support football" Or it could go the other way as well. My organization has no fundraiser. In fact, the principal lets the PTSA have art supply sales as their big fundraiser. They jack up the prices ten bucks per kit. And that's pretty much their budget for the year. So they balance the books on the backs of art students, while the drill team raised enough money to build another gym just for dance and color guard. Is this wrong too?

Darren said...

In California, booster clubs and other voluntary ways of raising money are completely legal. Charging for participation in a class or in cheerleading or sports is illegal.

And we do all three at my school, even though last year I got the superintendent to push through a board policy clarifying the state law.

We'll see what happens after my principal retires in a couple months.

David said...

You mention: An existing opinion from the state attorney general specifically prohibits schools from charging for such things as: A tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment into any class or course of instruction.
Where can I get a copy of this opinion? Thank you.

Darren said...

The state Department of Education Legal Office. Ask for their latest circular regarding illegal fees. They'll send it to you.