By the thinnest of margins, a key state Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that seeks to clarify the constitutional guarantee of a free education.
The bill, AB 165, is an outgrowth of a tentative agreement to settle an ACLU lawsuit challenging California school districts’ ability to require fees for students to participate in regular or extracurricular school activities. As an example, schools couldn’t require players to buy, rent or pay a security deposit on football uniforms or band instruments if the legislation is signed into law.
The bill, by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate, cleared the Assembly on June 2.
On Thursday it made it through the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 5-4 vote.
Democrats cast all five affirmative votes. Voting no were one Democrat (Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance) and three Republicans including Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, who represents much of the Santa Clarita Valley.
“If passed, this bill would essentially end all extra-curricular activities for students in public schools,” Runner said in a statement.
“After school activities are keeping kids busy in a safe environment, which gives working parents peace of mind,” she said. “Where will kids go when school is let out at 2:45 p.m. and parents don’t get off of work until 5 p.m.?”
Local school officials are keeping a sharp eye on the bill as it moves through the legislative process. Rob Challinor, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, said earlier in the week that the ACLU settlement agreement and related legislation “will result in actions affecting all California school districts.”
“For the Hart School District, we will certainly remain vigilant in helping to ensure that every family knows that a student’s participation in activities is not contingent upon fundraising or the payment of fees,” Challinor said.
AB 165 now heads to the full Senate for approval.