Lara's Bill Ensures Constitutional Guarantee of Free Public Education

January 20, 2011

Sacramento, Calif. – Assemblymember Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced Assembly Bill 165 today, which will put complaint and auditing procedures into place that will help identify, eliminate, and prevent the charging of illegal student fees in violation of a student's constitutional right to a free public education.

"Education has the potential to be the greatest equalizer in our society, however illegal fees on low-income children in our state further erode this promise and our trust in public education," said Assemblymember Lara.

AB 165 will codify a settlement agreement reached between the ACLU of Southern California and the state of California in Doe v. California. An August 2010 investigation by the ACLU of Southern California uncovered a widespread practice among public school districts of charging students mandatory fees to participate in educational activities. For example, Districts were forcing students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels in order to matriculate in academic courses.

In September 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of students alleging the fees violated the California Constitution's free public education guarantee and discriminated against lower-income students. The parties reached a settlement agreement in December of last year which is contingent on the enactment of this bill.

Chief Counsel for the ACLU- SC, Mark Rosenbaum said, "This is a historic settlement that puts an end once and for all to the pay-to-learn system."

AB 165 establishes a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement system to ensure school districts do not unlawfully charge students fees for participation in educational activities. The bill will empower students and parents to challenge illegal fees immediately and receive reimbursements through the existing Williams Uniform Complaint Process that provides local resolution within 30 working days.

"These measures will prevent this illegal practice and end the establishment of a two tier educational system by requiring a district or school in violation of this guarantee to fully reimburse the family with interest for illegal fees, or face a penalty," said Assemblymember Lara.

CONTACT: Julia Juarez @ (562) 927-1200