EDUCATION
10/03/2012 03:09 am ET

Russell Joki, Former Idaho School District Superintendent, Sues State Over Public School Fees

Russell Joki, a former Idaho school district superintendent, filed suit Monday against the state of Idaho and its school districts, alleging public schools that charge fees are in violation of the Idaho Constitution, which requires a free school system, the Spokesman-Review reports.

Joki’s twin granddaughters were charged $45 each to register for kindergarten this year, reportedly to cover field trips, school supplies, milk for snacks and art supplies. His grandson — for whom Joki is legal guardian — had to pay $85 in fees at Meridian High for chemistry, art and sports medicine classes as well as for "junior class dues.”

The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all students and parents in Idaho. Plaintiffs include Joki, his daughter and her twin 5-year-olds and 15 individuals from across the state — all grandparents of Idaho public school students.

In addition to charging fees, the lawsuit also takes issue with the school supplies lists — sometimes brand-specific — issued to parents before the start of every school year.

“It’s occurring statewide,” Joki told the Spokesman-Review. “These supply lists are a substitute for essential educational materials that the district needs to provide. Instead, the burden has been placed on parents and patrons.”

The Associated Press reports that in a similar case in 1970, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that a $12.50 “textbook fee” for high school students was unconstitutional due to school books being a “fixed educational expense,” not unlike school building maintenance or teachers’ salaries. In the same ruling, the court upheld a $12.50 fee for extracurricular activities, but ruled that the school district couldn't refuse transcripts for graduates who hadn't paid the full fees.

Joki’s attorney is former Idaho Supreme Court justice Robert Huntley.

The lawsuit seeks full refund of nearly $2.4 million in fees families paid for registration and school supplies, the AP reports. According to the Spokesman-Review, the refund would have to come from the school districts themselves or from a supplemental appropriation from the state Legislature.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho attorney general's office, declined comment to the AP because they had not seen the lawsuit.

“In contravention of the constitutional requirement to provide free common schools,” the lawsuit states, “the great majority of Idaho’s school districts, being grossly underfunded by the state legislature, have been engaging in the practice of levying fees upon the students and their families for various supplies and coursework, elective and otherwise, in violation of the Idaho Constitution.”

The lawsuit comes as states faced massive budget cuts through and following the recession, forcing a large number of teachers to pay for school items out of pocket.

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that bans all school fees related to educational activities — bolstering the state's commitment to a free public education, the Los Angeles Times reports. The measure was originally introduced by Democratic state Rep. Ricardo Lara Feb. 1, days after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge refused to dismiss an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit accusing the state of allowing schools to charge for participation in classes and extracurricular activities.

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