The Rowland Unified School District appreciates school-community cooperation to support our various programs. This document is provided as a guide for district staff, parents, community members, and auxiliary organizations, who financially support programs, to ensure legal compliance while providing that support. The intent of these guidelines is to emphasize that the question is not whether schools and their communities can raise money to support programs – they can – but how funds can be raised through lawful means.
This guidance contains five sections. The first briefly summarizes the general rule precluding mandatory fees, charges and deposits for educational and extracurricular activities. The second section provides key points as they are related to the Constitution and the law. Section III is a point-by-point summary of the exceptions to the general rule that specifies allowable fees and charges for certain activities. The two final sections address related topics that are often associated with discussions and debate on the issue of fees and are key elements in the lawful support of valued educational programs – the topics of donations and fundraising activities.
Summary of Rule
The California Constitution guarantees pupils a free public education. Per Article IX, Section 5 of the California Constitution: “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school is established.” The State Board of Education made it clear that fees are not to be imposed without clear legal allowance: “A pupil enrolled in a school shall not be required to pay any fee, deposit, or other charge not specifically authorized by law” (California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 350).
AB 1575 & ACLU
With the enactment of AB 1575, effective January 1, 2013, the Legislature codified the prohibition against charging students, or their parents, fees for any educational expense which is part of the District’s base educational program. AB 1575 declared that the statute reflects existing law, which has held that California law prohibits the charging of fees for any activity that is “educational in character,” an integral component of the educational program, or a necessary element of the educational program. (Hartzell v. Connell (1984) AB 1575 also enacts a new Education Code Article on pupil fees. (Ed. Code, §§ 49010-49013.) Generally, the Code will now dictate that “a pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity.” (Ed. Code, § 49011(a).)
Education Code section 49010 defines a “pupil fee” as:
A fee, deposit, or other charge imposed on pupils, or a pupil’s parents or guardians, in violation of Section 49011 and Section 5 of Article IX of the California Constitution, which require educational activities to be provided free of charge to all pupils without regard to their families’ ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers, as provided for in Hartzell v. Connell (1984) 35 Cal.3d 899. (Education Code section 49010(b))
It further states that a “pupil fee” includes, but is not limited to:
The Education Code has defined an “educational activity” as “an activity offered by a school, school district, charter school, or county office of education that constitutes an integral fundamental part of elementary and secondary education, including, but not limited to, curricular and extracurricular activities.” (Ed. Code, § 49010(a).) The phrase “offered by a school,” is included in AB 1575, to reinforce that support entities such as booster clubs, foundations and parent-teacher associations cannot lawfully collect mandatory fees to support school-sponsored educational programs including extra-curricular activities.
III. Exceptions: Permissible Mandatory Fees/Charges/Deposits
The following are specific exceptions to the prohibition on fees, charges and deposits at the kindergarten through 12th grade level (some legal provisions related to child care programs and adult education are not listed here). These fees, charges and deposits are legally permissible because they are specifically permitted by law. (Note: This list is based on legal authorizations, but the inclusion of a permissible fee, charge or deposit on this list does not necessarily mean that District schools currently assess the fee, charge or deposit). The following fees, charges, and deposits are permissible:
As is referenced above, the Supreme Court in Hartzell v. Connell stated that “educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families’ ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers.” In 1998, the California Attorney General addressed the issue of donations and emphasized that the constitutional concerns are alleviated when the raising of private funds is truly voluntarily.
School districts, schools, programs and classes can and do seek and accept donations of funds and property, and this practice is permissible as long as it is truly voluntary and in no way a prerequisite to participation in the program or activity. Therefore, any statement or explanation related to a donation that could lead a reasonable person to believe the donation may not be truly voluntary is to be avoided. Examples include but are not limited to a specified minimum amount of a donation, a date by which a donation is due, a lesser donation amount if funds are received prior to a certain date. Additionally, any statements or actions that exert explicit or implicit pressure on students or parents to make a donation are to be avoided, and the reason a student or family does not make a donation is not a subject for inquiry – as the Hartzell v Connell court said, access to educational programs must not be tied to the willingness to pay a fee or request a waiver, not only the ability to pay a fee or request a waiver.
California law does not allow school districts to charge fees to students for curricular and extracurricular activities. However, schools can no longer afford to fund many of the programs and activities. Therefore, schools may request voluntary donations from parents to offset the costs of these programs. Parents are not required to make donations and all students may participate in extracurricular activities regardless of whether their parents make a donation. (following language suggested by Fiscal Crisis & Management Team or FCMAT)
As with donations, school districts, schools, programs and classes can and do engage in fundraising activities and programs, and this practice is also permissible as long as the raising of funds is voluntary. A student who is asked to but does not raise funds may not be denied participation in an educational or extracurricular activity. A requirement to raise funds in order to participate, even if there is no mandated amount to be raised, is the same as requiring a fee.
The prohibition on the requirement for an individual student to raise money is to be distinguished from a requirement to attend a fundraising event as an element of participation in an activity, in the same way attendance at practices, games, rehearsals or performances are an expected aspect of participation. For example, expecting the members of a vocal ensemble to attend a fundraising concert that is on its calendar of events does not violate the “free school” guarantee, so long as attendance is the only requirement. Another example is when members of an athletic team are expected to help out with a fundraising sale at a Back to School Night or Open House – just as a coach can expect players to attend practices and games, he/she can expect players to attend a fundraising event as long as the requirement is to attend rather than to raise money as a condition of participation in the activity or program.