School fees are unfair, unconstitutional

As I walked my twin granddaughters to their first day as first graders, they were excited about a new school year.

So was I.  Not only for their educational experience, but for the parent’s experience in terms of paying fees.

Many parents are faced with a humiliating choice when they register their children, enroll them in courses, or seek participation for them school athletics and activities.

The humiliation is the requirement that they pay fees.  In some cases, fees well over hundreds of dollars.

For some parents, the choice is a negative one — they delay registration, skip a college or career preparation course, forgo activities and athletics.

This should not happen.

The Idaho Constitution, Article 1, Section 1 states: Legislature to establish system of free schools. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

In  Joki v State of Idaho, parents sued the Idaho Legislature, the state superintendent and local school districts on two counts.

First, the Legislature and Tom Luna were named for their failure to meet the Idaho Constitution duty to establish and maintain public education with adequate funding.

The goal was to increase the state appropriation to k-12 schools.  We applaud the governor for finally proposing an increase, but it is not enough.

Why?  Because the 2007 loss to public education is close to $500 million.  In 2007, the Legislature, in special session, removed the local school district “equalization” property tax and, supposedly, replaced it with a one-cent increase to the sales tax.

The sales tax did not replace the lost revenue.

The governor’s Education Plan then should include a sustained effort to fully replace lost education dollars.

The second cause of action brought by the parents was the elimination of fees.  School district should not be charging fees for any part of the locally approved, endorsed, or sanctioned educational experience offered to students.

Yet they continue to do so, despite knowledge of the lawsuit and Idaho Supreme Court precedence (Paulson v State, 1971) which declared such fees unconstitutional.

The Joki v State lawsuit is currently in 4th District Court, Ada County.  A hearing is scheduled in September to consider keeping the Legislature and the state superintendent as defendants.  They contend they have nothing to do with school funding.

The same court will, eventually, hear arguments regarding fees charged by local districts. District Court Judge Greenwood ruled that the case be narrowed to the Meridian School District.

And so, as a parent of the Meridian School District, I walked my granddaughters to their first day, check book in hand, and sent my grandson off to Meridian High School, check in hand, for his senior year fees.

Along with thousands of other parents, I paid the fees once again.  I did so under protest, hoping for a court ruling this school year that will strike such fees down as unconstitutional.

Such fees not only contradict the Idaho Constitution, but they contribute to a growing economic divide.

Many Idaho families struggle economically.  A quick look at Idaho Kids Count data bases will show how poor many Idaho families are.

For public education to demand fees is yet another shackle that restrains the ability of Idaho’s poor to receive a quality education.

Such fees are a form of tuition, much like charges made by private schools.  Such fees fall into two categories:  money and supplies.

Money based fees are straightforward—you have to pay a sum to get registered, to take a class, to participate in an activity.

Supply based fees are hidden, but just as costly.  This year, for example, the Meridian School District requires first graders to bring a list of supplies.  The list includes headphones.

If the first grade instructional program requires headphones, then the Meridian School District should provide them.  To include them on a school supply list is a fee.  An unwarranted, unconstitutional fee.

Parents willingly support their local schools.

It’s time the local schools demonstrated they want them to come to school.