Should Students Pay to Take Biology?
School fees add up in California.
Ten dollars for the computer lab. Twenty for biology supplies. The costs don't sound like much, but they've added up to something big in California-a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, claiming excessive school fees have prevented students' access to a free and public education. The plaintiffs in the case are two students identified only by pseudonyms, Jane Doe and Jason Roe. Both say they've been teased and made to feel embarrassed after failing to pay required course fees. The suit names 35 school districts as defendants, as well as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Every other state in the union recognizes that the hope of a democracy relies on the promotion and perpetuation of free public schools," a lawyer for the ACLU, Mark Rosenbaum, told the Associated Press. "The construction that the state has apparently taken and that these districts have taken is that free has to mean something other than free." In reality, California isn't the only state to charge fees for classroom supplies, fine arts, and extracurricular programs. As state budgets have been slashed, schools have relied on fees to continue to offer extras-or, in the case of science and computer lab fees, to fund coursework required for graduation.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see groups in other states adopt the same line of reasoning [as the ACLU]," Mark Griffith, a school finance analyst at the Education Commission of the States, said in the New York Times. In the meantime, all eyes are on California, especially in those districts where the options may be charging fees-or not offering certain courses at all.
Texas Asks for Cash, Feds Say No
Don't include special conditions in your application for federal funds. That's the lesson Texas governor Rick Perry learned after the U.S. Department of Education rejected the state's appeal for $837 million—with the caveat that Texas law could overrule any promises made in the application. U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) took Perry to task: "Solely because of his willful alteration of the federal application, schools across Texas will have millions less available now to meet local education needs." The state plans to resubmit a revised application.
Pennsylvania Has Cushy Reserve
While Pennsylvania's Harrisburg district debates cutting kindergarten classes due to a budget shortfall, $2.75 billion is sitting in reserve funds across the state, amassed under Governor Ed Rendell. "Clearly, during this time, you shouldn't be raising taxes and putting money in reserve," State Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Jake Corman told the Associated Press. The governor has defended the state's rainy day funds. "While fund balances may have grown, there has still undeniably been a substantial increase in the amount of money that has gone directly to bettering educational quality and classroom performance," a spokesman said. The state has also promised to help Harrisburg keep its early childhood programs.
Mississippi Schools Save on Energy
Through a partnership with Texas's Energy Education, one Mississippi school district has cut more than 25 percent off its energy bill. Forrest County schools achieved a savings of $245,000, emphasizing simple measures such as turning off lights and computers. "We're making staff aware of how we can save energy," said the district's energy education specialist, Mike Pappas. "And it's working."