The California Senate approved legislation Thursday that would bar school districts from requiring students to pay fees or security deposits in order to participate in athletic programs and other curricular or extracurricular activities.
The bill is expected to have major monetary impacts on school districts across the state, and on booster clubs that require parents and students to raise money.
“If passed, this bill would essentially end all extracurricular activities for students in public schools,” Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, said last week when she voted against it in committee.
The bill, AB 165, stems from an ACLU lawsuit alleging school districts are violating the constitutional mandate to provide a free education. It applies both to curricular and extracurricular programs at all schools including charter schools.
Hart School District Superintendent Rob Challinor said last week: “We are resolved in our commitment to allow parents and community members to continue supporting programs that they find essential to their student’s success in school, and student participation is not and will never be contingent upon donations.”
The California Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that extracurricular activities are an integral component of public education and therefore must be provided free. A Senate analysis cited a March 2011 UCLA study showing 19 percent of school principals surveyed indicated that their schools have begun requiring students and families to pay for instructional materials.
The ACLU alleges more than 50 public school districts in California charge pupil fees for participating in educational programs. Examples include various charges for textbooks and workbooks, science lab fees, material fees for fine arts classes, and required purchases of physical education uniforms.
The bill would bar schools from imposing direct fees or security deposits, as well as indirect charges such as a requirement to purchase a football uniform or band instrument from a retailer.
The ACLU, the California Federation of Teachers and the California State PTA support the measure.
Opponents include the Riverside County School Superintendent Association and a school advocacy group in San Bernardino County, which objects to a provision that would require school districts to conduct a public hearing at the beginning of each school year to confirm they aren’t charging illegal fees.
“Under no other forum is a district required to admit that it has violated the law and provide a remedy even if no complaint has been filed,” the San Bernardino County District Advocates for Better Schools said.
The bill requires any illegal fees to be reimbursed, and establishes a new complaint system.
The Senate passed it 23-15 along party lines. The Assembly approved it in June. It now heads back to the Assembly for approval of the Senate’s minor amendments before going to the governor’s desk.