LOS ANGELES (CN) – California denies children a free public education by charging for textbooks, workbooks and other course materials, charging for advanced-placement exams – a required part of AP classes, and piling on “fees” for lockers, uniforms, lab manuals and sports, a class action claims in Superior Court. “There is no system of free public education in California,” the class claims, “public school throughout the state unabashedly trample upon this constitutional right by requiring students to pay fees and purchase assigned materials for courses for academic credit.”
Named student-plaintiffs Jane Doe and Jason Roe sued for the class. They claim, “The California Constitution, like the constitutions of every other state in the Union … entitles the children of this state to a free and equal education. But there is no system of free public education in California … Despite its clear constitutional duty to provide free and equal education, the state has stood idly by in the face of this rampant and blatant charging of illegal fees. The state instead operates by winks and nods, failing completely to monitor and ensure its public school districts compliance with the free education guarantee.”
California has used the word “fee” for years to duck its own laws and regulations about taxes and university tuition. Under the Legislature’s expedient logic, “fees” are not subject to legal restrictions imposed upon taxes or tuition.
Jane Doe’s public high school charges her and other student to buy “textbooks, workbooks and assigned novels for credit courses. Her school also charges students to take an Advanced Placement (‘AP’) exam, even though completing the exam is a course requirement and affect’s the student’s grade. Likewise, plaintiff Jason Roe’s public high school requires students to purchase workbooks, lab manuals, and physical education uniforms for credit courses and also requires students to purchase locks and student agendas as a general requirement for enrollment at the school.
“Students who are unable to pay the fees or purchase the materials are disadvantaged academically and overtly humiliated by teachers and school officials,” according to the complaint.
“For example, Jane’s Spanish teacher wrote her name on the class whiteboard because she could not pay for assigned workbooks. Her English teacher instructed her not to highlight or take notes in borrowed books that Jane could not afford to purchase. And in the middle of taking her AP United States History exam, the proctor approached Jane, identified her by name and asked if she had a check for the exam fee, stating that the person at the school charged with collecting money wanted to see her immediately after the exam.”
Jason says he had to buy an English workbook, a chemistry lab manual, a Spanish workbook and a student agenda. A school official told his mother that if he could not buy the English workbook, he would have to do his homework in the school library after school. “Because Jason’s family could afford to pay only a portion of the fees for these required materials, Jason was compelled to start school without his chemistry manual and Spanish workbook.”
The class claims this discrimination against poor kids “is systemic and widespread throughout California.” It cites 32 school districts that post the charges they impose for courses students take for credit.
Both named plaintiffs live in Orange County.
The class seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the California Constitution, wealth discrimination, violations of the Education Code, and violations of the state regulatory code, Title 5 Section 350 of which states that “[a] pupil enrolled in a school shall not be required to pay any fee, deposit, or other charge not specifically authorized by law.”
(California faces a $19 billion budget deficit – precisely the amount that led to the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, which resulted in the election of defendant Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The students’ class action illustrates the length to which California’s citizens and lawmakers have permitted themselves to tap dance around the state’s annual budget disaster, without addressing it.)
Lead counsel for the students is Mark Rosenbaum with the ACLU of Los Angeles. Co-counsel includes Dan Marmalefsky with Morrison & Foerster.