Recently the issue of fees, charges, deposits, donations and fundraising related to courses and activities has been at the forefront of public attention locally and nationally. This website's resources are provided as a guide for District staff and families, with the twin goals of school-community cooperation to support programs and legal compliance while providing that support. Taken as a whole, the intent of this Guidance 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 three sections. The first briefly summarizes the general rule precluding mandatory fees, charges and deposits for educational activities. The second and third section 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 for programs, classes, schools, etc. Finally, there are a list of FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions).
To see a short video giving more details about the law and NHUSD's adherence to it, click HERE.
I. Summary of Rule
The California Constitution mandates that public education be provided to students free of charge, unless a charge is specifically authorized by law for a particular program or activity.
This constitutional right of free access encompasses all educational activities, whether curricular or extracurricular, and regardless of whether credit is awarded for the educational activity.
The right of free access also prohibits mandated purchases of materials, supplies, equipment or uniforms associated with the activity, as well as the payment of security deposits for access, participation, materials or equipment.
Finally, a process that allows for a waiver process for an otherwise mandatory fee, charge or deposit does not render it constitutionally permissible.
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.” Also, 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 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.
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 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.
FAQ #1: May a school still receive donations from parents and guardians?
RESPONSE: Yes. 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 the donation is truly voluntary and in no way a prerequisite to participation in the program or activity, including field trips. In addition, donations can NOT be made for a specific student; instead, they must be made to a school or program. For example, if a person wishes to donate to their school’s cheerleading program, they can donate to the cheer program or to the cost of cheer camp but not specifically for cheerleader Gabrielle Union’s participation in the program or the camp.
FAQ #2: may a school fundraise?
RESPONSE: Yes. 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. You may require students to attend a fundraising event; however, if they are unable to raise funds, you cannot prevent them from participating in the educational activity the fundraising is supporting. Also, attendance at a fundraiser can be required if it is a team or club event. Penalties for non-attendance would be similar to those imposed for failure to attend any other team or club event (e.g., sitting out a game, etc.).
FAQ #3: can schools charge for any costs of field trips?
RESPONSE: No. School districts, schools, programs, and classes may not charge students for the cost of transportation, admission, meals, or any other expense associated with the field trip that is necessary for student participation. The school can receive donations for field trip expenses and may fundraise under the conditions described previously.
FAQ #4: may a school charge fees for uniforms or materials for team sports or activities?
RESPONSE: No. A school must provide a free uniform and other necessary materials to any student who is a member of the school team. You can allow students to purchase their own uniforms and other materials if they want to purchase and keep those items; however, buying a uniform or other materials cannot be a requirement to participate in a sport. If the student does not purchase the uniform or other materials, it remains the property of the school and is treated as if it were a textbook: if it is lost or damaged beyond reasonable wear and tear, the student is responsible for the repair or replacement costs. This also applies to lab fees—they are also prohibited unless the student agrees to keep the materials purchased.
FAQ #5: Can a school charge fees only to those students who can afford them, and provide a waiver process for those who can’t?
RESPONSE: No. A waiver process based on financial need or inability to pay does not make an otherwise non-permissible fee permissible. A teacher could not say, “The cost of the trip is $10 per person, but if you can’t pay, see me and we’ll see what we can do.” That is a waiver process. Instead, a teacher can say, “The cost of the trip for our entire class to go is $350, which works out to $10 a student. We will be asking for donations to raise $350 for the trip; a suggested donation is $10.”
FAQ #6: Can a school charge a gym fee for PE clothes?
RESPONSE: No. California public schools cannot charge fees for gym or physical education clothes. Education Code 49066 states: “No grade of a pupil participating in a physical education class may be adversely affected due to the fact that the pupil does not wear standardized physical education apparel where the failure to wear such apparel arises from circumstances beyond the control of the pupil,” such as for lack of sufficient funds. A school could “check out” PE clothes to students, similar to a textbook check out, which the student would need to pay for if the clothes are damaged or lost.
FAQ #7: do these policies apply to activities that occur outside the school day?
RESPONSE: Yes. California law prohibiting fees applies as long as the activity is affiliated with the school, whether it be outside the school day or school year. For example, if a teacher wanted to lead a group of students for a trip to a statewide conference during the summer, the teacher could ask the students to pay as long as it was clear that the trip was not connected to the school. If that event occurred during the year, and the teacher would be absent, she would need to take a personal day for her absence so that there is clearly no endorsement by the school or district for the trip’s required fee.
FAQ #8: On a field trip, can students be asked to pay for their own meals?
RESPONSE: Students can only be asked to pay for their food if they do not qualify for free or reduced price lunch. However, because a student’s qualification for free or reduced price lunch is private information which even a principal cannot access, students cannot be asked to pay for their own meals on field trips. If the field trip will last over the lunch period, teachers may consider either including each person’s lunch in the donation costs, or contacting Food Services to get a sack lunch for each student. Teachers can, for example, ask which students would like to bring their own lunch instead of having a bag lunch provided by the school, and raise funds to provide a sufficient number of school lunches.
NHUSD Student Fees + Field Trips Fall 2011 from NHUSD on Vimeo.