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Calif. Governor Vetoes Bill Banning Pay-to-Play Sports Fees

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill this past Saturday that would have banned public schools from charging students fees to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, saying the bill went "too far."

[UPDATE (Oct. 11): Despite Gov. Brown's veto of this bill, pay-to-play sports fees are still banned by the state constitution. This bill would have given more teeth to the enforcement of the pay-to-play ban, as a whistleblower website discovered districts charging students mandatory fees even after the state announced its settlement with the ACLU last December.]

The bill would have prohibited public schools from charging fees as a condition for participation in an "educational activity," including sports teams or other extracurricular clubs. Schools also wouldn't have been allowed to charge for books, lab equipment, and art supplies.

[UPDATE (Oct. 11): For schools that still charged students mandatory fees, AB 165 would have entitled the state superintendent of public instruction to withhold 1 percent of all funding for administrative costs from them.]

The bill was based on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that pay-to-play sports violated the state constitution. (That case was settled last December, but the settlement was never finalized.)

In 1984, the state Supreme Court ruled that "educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families' ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers" in the case Hartzell v. Connell.

Gov. Brown said that districts should be held accountable if they don't live up to the promise to provide all students with a free public education.

"But this bill takes the wrong approach to getting there," he said in a statement to the members of the state Assembly.

The bill would have required every school in the state to use uniform complaint processes to help resolve any issues with fees, and to post notices about the complaint resolution process in every classroom.

Gov. Brown cited that provision specifically in his statement explaining why he vetoed the bill, saying it "would mandate that every single classroom in California post a detailed notice and that all 1,042 school districts and over 1,200 charter schools follow specific complaint, hearing, and audit procedures, even where there have been no complaints, let alone evidence of any violation."

The state senate passed the bill by a 23-15 margin back on Sept. 1. The Assembly voted 51-24 in favor on Sept. 6 before passing the bill along to Gov. Brown.

Michael P. Griffith, a school finance analyst at the Education Commission of the States, told The New York Times in September 2010 that California's pay-to-play debate was worth monitoring, given the constitutionality arguments.

"What's new here is that this is not about funding levels for education, but about whether districts are charging kids to get a public education," Griffith said. "That's a brand-new argument. I wouldn't be surprised to see groups in other states adopt the same line of reasoning."

Given that both chambers of the state legislature voted in favor of the bill before Gov. Brown's veto, it's unlikely that the pay-to-play argument has been put to rest, both in California and nationwide.

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