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Fees for Public Schools Draw Lawsuits, Settlement

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Parents and guardians of public school children are increasingly required to pay fees for their students' participation in school—fees that many bristle at paying for a "free" public education, funded by taxpayer dollars.

Lawsuits have been filed to stem the tide of charging families for parts of the educational experience, on the grounds that making parents pay up is unconstitutional.

On October 1, a former school superintendent in Idaho filed one such class action lawsuit. That same day, the American Civil Liberties Union withdrew a California lawsuit on this subject.

In a statement, the ACLU indicated that it took that action because Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1575, which ensures that the California Department of Education will provide regular guidance for superintendents and administrators about the free schools guarantee.

The new law also modifies the uniform complaint process in instances where students are charged unconstitutional fees, so the matter can be resolved without costly litigation for parents or students.

This last provision represents an understanding that, despite the unconstitutional aspect of charging for various activities, school districts sometimes impose them anyway, using different strategies, as a California whistle blower organization revealed last year.

The practice of charging fees appears to be on the rise, as school districts are squeezed by cuts in state funding, while grappling with fixed costs.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the issue, from the viewpoint of schools trying to balance budgets, and families doing the same. One Medina, Ohio family, for instance, paid $4,446.50 in fees last year for their three children to attend public school—fees that enabled the children to take courses like Spanish I and earth sciences, and participate in extracurricular activities like band and team sports.

The lawsuit brought by Russ Joki, the former superintendent, was filed October 1 in 4th District Court in Ada County. It seeks class-action status on behalf of all schoolchildren and parents in the state of Idaho, and names the state and school districts in it as defendants.

Joki seeks to stop schools from charging fees for things like kindergarten registration ($45 per child for his twin granddaughters) and high school registration ($85 for his grandson,) according to an article in The Spokesman-Review.

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