Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed legislation which for months has worried cash-strapped public school officials up and down the state.
Assembly Bill 165 by Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate, would have toughened the state constitutional guarantee of a free education by barring California school districts from charging direct or indirect fees, including security deposits, for any academic or extracurricular activity – including art supplies and protective football gear.
It also would have required school districts to prove they weren’t violating the constitution, even if nobody accused them of doing so – something unprecedented in California education law.
Brown said the proposed legislation went too far.
“The bill would mandate 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,” Brown said in his veto message Saturday.
Officials with the William S. Hart Union High School District stopped short of expressing jubilation, saying instead they would “continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.”
“We will look to the California Department of Education and our legal counsel for guidance on how we respond to Gov. Brown’s veto,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said.
In August as the bill worked its way through the Assembly and Senate, Hart Superintendent Rob Challinor said every student in the district “is provided full access to district programs and activities. Participation will never be based on ability to pay.”
Nonetheless, Challinor noted the “harsh reality” that funding cuts force education leaders to think outside of the box if they’re going to provide “a full spectrum of comprehensive programs including music, arts, dance, athletics, cheerleading, yearbook, photography, theatre, clubs and associations.”
AB 165 called into question the ability of booster clubs to raise money to support programs, because student fees couldn’t be tied to those programs – and exempting a child from a fee requirement due to hardship wouldn’t have been allowed.
“A student’s participation (may not) be conditioned upon application for a special waiver (because of) the stigma that results from recording some students as needy,” the California Supreme Court opined in the landmark 1984 case of Hartzell v. Connell.
AB 165 grew out of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in September 2010 against the state of California after an ACLU study found that more than 50 public school districts were potentially violating Hartzell by requiring students to pay fees in order to participate in educational programs.
According to a state Senate report, “(the ACLU alleged) the types of fees being charged included charges for text books, workbooks, science lab fees, material fees for fine arts classes, and required purchases of physical education uniforms.”
In December 2010, a lame-duck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the ACLU reached a tentative settlement – tentative on the passage of legislation to establish a monitoring and enforcement system ensuring school districts weren’t charging fees for educational activities.
AB 165 was that legislation. In May the ACLU filed papers with the court asking for a stay. “If this bill passes through the Assembly and Senate and is signed by the governor, it may provide the full relief sought in (the lawsuit),” the ACLU wrote.
The state of California never agreed to the stay, asking instead for dismissal pending movement of the bill through the legislative process.
That process ended Saturday.
“Local district compliance with (the right to a free education) is essential,” Brown said, “and those who fail should be held accountable. But this bill takes the wrong approach to getting there.”
With his veto, the lawsuit, Doe v. California, lives on.