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Lack of fees batters high school classes

Educators, no longer able to charge rental and material fees for their courses, say programs are struggling.

December 04, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Miro Khoeagholian, 16, and Nick Breen, 17, put chunks of orange onto Chinese chicken salad the Culinary 2 class made at Burbank High School, on Wednesday, November 30, 2011. The class made Chinese chicken salad that is sold to staff and faculty for $6 each. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Miro Khoeagholian, 16, and Nick Breen, 17, put chunks…

The Glendale High School music program has long operated on a tight budget, held together in part by a $75 instrument rental fee that director Amy Rangel stretched to fund equipment repairs and other expenses.

The more than 100 students who borrow school-owned instruments each year paid, Rangel said, generating thousands of dollars. The handful that couldn’t were always accommodated.

But after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued the state of California last year alleging that student fees violate a Constitutional mandate that public school districts provide free and equitable education to all, Rangel was forced to replace the rental fee with a voluntary contribution.

Four months into the school year, just six students have anted up, she said.

“We are basically having to ask for donations — which most families have chosen not to do — or fundraise,” Rangel said. “It is really rough. We are thousands of dollars behind.”

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It is a story echoed by local choir directors, art teachers and culinary instructors who, once dependent on student fees to cover expenses, must now fundraise, pay out of pocket or, in some cases, do without.

Representatives for the ACLU say the lawsuit was filed to enforce existing state law and to ensure that all students have equal access to opportunities, and to draw attention to the deplorable level of funding for public education.

“We think it is important that everyone remembers, as our Constitution requires, access to educational activities isn’t limited based on family income,” said Brooks Allen, director of education advocacy with the ACLU of Southern California.

State legislation introduced in January that would have sharpened existing language on the issue was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, derailing a potential settlement. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next month, Allen said.

But in some ways the ACLU has already made its point. In November, the California Department of Education issued an advisory detailing laws that prohibit students fees. Districts have directed staff to take note.

“I think it certainly has brought some needed awareness to the existing law that all students, regardless of financial means, have full and equal access to all academic activities,” Allen said. “And that is a good thing.”

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