Undaunted by veto, Assemblyman revises bill to fight pay to learn’ education

Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate, has reintroduced legislation that he said would help protect a student's constitutional guarantee to a free public education and combat what he calls the state's pay to learn" system.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation by Lara last October that would have addressed the issue of school districts charging students fees to participate in educational activities.

Lara introduced AB 1575 following a late January ruling by the Los Angeles County Superior Court in the case of Doe v. California that upheld the free school guarantee in the California constitution.

AB 1575 would address issues raised in the lawsuit by establishing uniform complaint, hearing and audit procedures for students and parents looking to challenge fees and receive reimbursements, rather than them having to go through a costly, drawn-out court case.

"AB 1575 provides a new opportunity for the Legislature and governor to work together to address our current pay to learn' system," Lara said in a statement announcing his new bill. "No student should have to worry about being excluded or humiliated when they can't pay to participate in educational activities."

Lara introduced AB 165 last year after an Aug. 2010 investigation by the ACLU of Southern California revealed public school districts were charging students mandatory fees to participate in educational activities by forcing them to purchase textbooks, workbooks and novels to enroll in academic courses.

In September 2010, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of students alleging the fees violated the California constitution's free public education guarantee and discriminated against lower-income students by creating a "pay-to-learn" system that threatened the integrity of the free public education system.

AB 165 would have extended uniform complaint procedures to include complaints regarding student fees; required school districts and charter schools to publicly announce each year whether unlawful fees were being charged and to reimburse any improper fees, and added student fees to the annual audit process for each school district, with districts that charged improper fees potentially facing deferred funding from their county office of education.

When he vetoed AB 165, Gov. Brown called it too broad-based.

"[T]his bill takes the wrong approach to getting there," he said in his veto message. "The bill would mandate that every single classroom in California post a detailed notice and that all 1,042 school districts and over 1,200 charter schools follow specific complaint, hearing and audit procedures, even where there have been no complaints, let alone evidence of any violation. This goes too far."

AB 1575 has been referred to the assembly committee on education, where it can be heard after March 3.