Fees, donations and fund-raising are the Band-Aids holding Public School together. Public School has been "free" since 1879, but not until now are the "fees" to be no more.
REQUIRED MATERIAL AND FEES
As every parent knows, each school year begins with a dash off to Target, Staples or another source of indispensable school supplies, with a long shopping list provided by teachers. Often several trips are required, because the binder has to be 2” instead of 1.5”, or the compass for math has to have a wheel in the middle to be the right kind. A calendar for $ 5 is required. Then you buy PE clothes and other stuff that seem necessary. In science the kids are requested to give ‘donations’ in order to be able to do hands on science.
All of these fees and requests of material that students are expected to be equipped with are illegal. The only fees that a school can legally charge are for things like school dances, food for kids not on a free/reduced program, and cost of replacing damaged or lost material loaned to students. (http://www.aclu-sc.org/cases/doe-v-california/ab-1575-know-your-rights/).
It’s been illegal at least since 2010 when ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) filed Doe v. California, and some schools started eliminating fees then. Now with Assembly Bill 1575 effective January 1st, you can ask your school principals to stop fees and ask for the money back.
You can find the complaint form on this website: http://www.aclu-sc.org/cases/doe-v-california/school-fees/
(Of course, schools are on their knees so having all parents reimbursed would be a death sentence to Public School, even if it would make a good point).
There's a lot of confusion, but you can go to http://wwwstatic.kern.org/gems/fcmat/StudentfeesguidelinesTulareC.pdf for an example of a school district's interpretation of the law. I am unaware of what Newark School District is doing about it, but maybe they will inform parents eventually.
Throughout the year parents are asked for water, sodas, baked goods, treats... The kids get extra credit by teachers for bringing in boxes of Kleenex at the Junior High, as teachers are always in need for class room supplies. The PTA member fee/donation and efforts go towards buying copy paper.
The difference between a donation or a required fee is often a gray area. For example, take the NMHS Ceramics class this year: “students…are requested to donate studio or lab fees” (total confusion: mixing ‘request’, ‘donation’ and ‘fee’ in one sentence.). If you have financial hardship you have to “request a waiver’ for the “STUDIO FEE”, while you can ‘donate $ 25”. So you have to have waiver in order not to give a donation!
The go-between for all these ‘fees’ and ‘donations’ and all the hand-outs and checks going back and forth between parents and teachers, are the kids. They have to get a check back to the teacher…or not. If you can't afford the fees, it can't be an easy thing. How does that make you feel, if you're a kid, if your family can’t contribute with $ 25! It’s heart breaking!
On top of the requested material and fees, the needs continue and permeate the school year. There are fundraisers where kids and parents sell cookies, chocolate, wrapping paper, Jamba Juice...
Fund-raising for school needs by students vary in nature from trying to make it attractive to students, an event like a Turkey Trot, or if you sell enough you earn an ice cream party), to more outright demands without frills. This is an example from last week in high school athletics where the kids were turned into telmarketers for $ 25 flip-flops : ‘ Phone-Blast Kick-Off… This is mandatory for all team members…Bring your cell phone fully charged… List 20 people that support and care about you…be prepared to work for 1 hour’.
LAW AND REALITY
In real life, you quickly get taken out of the illusion that school is free and equal, but that is what is presumed through various legal decisions:
California Constitution (1879) requires that the State provide a system of free public schools.
Hartzell v. Connell (1984) ruled that public schools cannot charge students or families for participating in ‘educational programs’, including extracurricular activities.
Butt v. State of California (1992) says the State bears the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure that its district-based system of common schools provide basic equality of educational opportunity.
Williams v. State (2004) requires the state to ensure the provision of educational basics such as qualified teachers, safe facilities, and textbooks.
Doe v. California (2010) filed by ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Southern California is a suit to ensure that school is free.
In the Sunday Argus we could read about AB 1575 in ‘New law has schools scrambling for supplies’: http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_22702203/new-california-school-law-that-bans-fees-causes
The article relates absurd effects the bill has given rise to:
- the case of a geometry teacher who printed paper protractors because she could not ask them to bring real ones
- problems with school trips because you can't ask for bus money
- sciences classes that can't afford basic material without the fee
Without fees, what remains are donations and fund-raising.
The Donations (big D because we are not talking cookies) will make it easy for places like Los Altos and Palo Alto to continue with business as usual, but for the majority of schools, what remains would be to sell more cookies, flip-flops and whatever else we can think of, to each other, and that is probably not possible.
Doe v. California and AB1575 are not solutions, they only pinpoint and exacerbate a problem that is based on a system that is deeply flawed and extremely unjust.
I don’t think the new bill will have a positive effect in the short term. It will make it harder for most schools to function, but it is an important step in establishing what Public School should be like.
As long as Public School is defined by zip code, Public School will continue to be a very unequal proposition. If Educational Foundations in wealthy school districts can ask for donations (tax free) and get extra funding that way to provide art, music, school gardens etc., these parents have no incentive to seek fundamental change in school funding. They have bolstered Public School into a cheap private school.
After getting rid of fees, I believe that donations have to go next. Educational Foundations are now the basis for inequality. They have to go, even if that might make the Los Altos children lose art and music in school (I am sure their parents can find alternatives outside of school).
I have a petition you can sign on change.org to end Educational Foundations: http://www.change.org/petitions/arne-duncan-secretary-of-education-tom-torlakson-ca-superintendent-end-inequality-in-public-school-by-ending-educational-foundations
So here's a recipe: no fees, no donations, keep a little fund-raising for charity and some small extras, like an ice cream event, but give schools basic and equitable funding that ensures quality education for all, and the end result of citizens who can find rewarding work in a global economy.
Maybe funding of public school is so fundamentally flawed that reform is not enough. It has to get bad to the point where Public School breaks down totally, and then is built up from zero. In that case I think it would be good to establish, from the outset, that all kids need/deserve/benefit from and has the right to art, music, foreign languages and quality teachers in Public School, not just kids in wealthier schools.
Public School is not free and equal until a kid in Public School in Newark or East Palo Alto can't tell the difference if they happen to spend a day in Public School in Orinda or "West" Palo Alto.