ACLU Sues State Over Public School Fees

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September 12, 2010
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The California affiliates of the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the State of California and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for allowing school districts throughout the state to charge fees for books and other essential educational materials.

Since 1879, the California Constitution has guaranteed the state's children a free education.

The lawsuit resulted from an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California, which uncovered a widespread practice among school districts of compelling students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels. Districts also charged students to take Advanced Placement examinations, even though completing these tests is a course requirement and affects students’ grades.

The suit contends that charging fees discriminates against children in lower-income families, resulting in an unfair system in which only the wealthy will be able to afford an education.

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In 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration settled a similar lawsuit, Williams v. California, which charged that the state had failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to guaranteee the bare minimum infrastructure--up to date textbooks, safe buildings, qualified teachers--for a quality public education.

The settlement provided up to a billion dollars for school districts to purchase educational materials, to identify and fix deteriorating schools, and to ensure that all schools hired qualified teachers. The state also agreed to standards for teachers, access to textbooks, sanitary and safe campuses, and a parent-supported system to hold school districts accountable to those standards.