New law strengthens ban on public school fees

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that strengthens the state constitution’s guarantee of a free public education by specifically banning all school fees related to educational activities.

Such fees already were against the law, based on rulings and settlements arising from previous litigation, but advocates continued to pursue the issue because schools continued to charge students.

California education officials in December settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against dozens of campuses -- including John Burroughs High School in Burbank -- alleging that the charges violated a constitutional mandate that public school districts provide free and equitable education to all students.

School systems have been under pressure to maintain programs in the face of budget cuts, and some turned to fees.

“This is the first time that the state has taken any responsibility for making sure these fees are not charged,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which sued over the fees. He added that the new law should end a "pay-to-learn system that has operated illegally for decades.”

School officials in Burbank and Glendale have said that the clamp down could have a "chilling effect" on after on extracirricular programs that districts have been struggling to maintain amid state education funding cutbacks.

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-- Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, with reporting by Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

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