Education Matters: New school policy makes no cents

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

For reasons not entirely clear to me, a California Supreme Court ruling from 1984 is now being implemented in our state schools.

In Hartzell v. Connell, the court held that “the imposition of fees for educational activities offered by public school districts violates the free school guarantee.” The word “free,” as used here, is now to be taken literally, right down to the penny. Any attempt to get a family to pony up a few bucks for lab fees or extra art supplies or drill team uniforms or even a three-ring notebook at the beginning of the year — all strictly forbidden out of concern that it may place an economic burden on some families, thereby violating the “equal education” guarantee in our state’s Constitution.

And, it must be added, failing to comply could hold districts liable to lawsuits for not providing equal access to every student.

My heart goes out to families that cannot provide a three-ring binder for a son or daughter, but before I accept the reasoning in this court decision, I’d want to know the priorities of the families that find themselves in that destitute state.

After food, shelter and clothing, a child’s education should be in the same category of life’s necessities. I want to know that parents who chose to bring life into this world thought about education as part of their child’s basic sustenance.

I came across a directive sent out in one of our schools that requires every teacher to turn in his/her class syllabus for inspection to be sure that no charge or fee or money is to be paid out for anything whatsoever by any student for anything. Teachers may “request donations,” but those donations cannot be connected to any individual.

Physical education clothes, locks, athletic uniforms, art supplies, etc. must be provided by the individual school districts. Fees for field trips can be charged “as long as no student is prevented from making the field trip because of lack of sufficient funds.” Huh?

With school budgets being cut to the bone, the implementation of this policy strikes me as rather badly timed. I understand the basic rationale of the court’s holding: Equal access to education for each child is a fundamental right that should not be in any way determined/affected by family finances. We must always heed the spirit of that law, but right now we’re caught up in the letter of it.

I’ll try to explain.

Let’s take a look at three hypothetical high schools. One has far greater parent support — with volunteering time and donating money (school A). The other two high schools (B and C), for whatever reason — greater immigrant population, more working parents — have far less support from the parents and the local community. The end result is that the first high school is better equipped, more generously funded, but, according to the letter of the law, receiving a superior (unequal) education to schools B and C.

Through no fault of their own, the courts might reason, the children in B and C are being short-changed — literally. Let the students in A go ahead and have car washes and bake sales and 100 other fundraising activities, but have them share their proceeds with B and C. Equal education for all.

But wait, what about schools D, E, F, G, etc.? In California, none of them measures up to schools A, B and C? In the pursuit of total equality, should they not also be cut in on donation dollars coming in to other schools throughout the state?

If that sounds a little far-fetched, so does the idea that a teacher cannot require a student to come to class with a notebook and pen/pencil unless the school first provides it. Once again the schools are expected to assume responsibilities and absorb costs that more properly belong to the families that send their children to be educated.

Likely as not, the teachers will dig into their own pockets to buy supplies for their students. They’ve been doing it more and more in recent decades as funding for schools has dried up or been diverted to more “essential” programs, like devising, administering and assessing state tests.

It’s good to know that we have our priorities straight.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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