This year, Palo Alto Unified summer school students unexpectedly received full refunds for course fees and were able to attend classes free of charge. The clarification of California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 1575, which took place in the assembly on May 30, 2012, caused this sudden change. In the past, the Palo Alto Unified School District required a $400 to $500 fee for a summer school course. However, AB 1575 removed the fees completely because it prohibits public schools from accepting students’ money in payment for educational resources such as summer school, extracurricular activities and class materials. Although this change may diminish district funds, the change is a step in the right direction because it grants greater access to educational opportunities for students in lower income brackets.
Along with the assurance of free summer school, students will no longer be required to pay for extracurricular activities and class supplies, which include fees for P.E. uniforms, textbooks and sports equipment. Similarly, the district is not allowed to charge students for tutoring sessions, after-school sports, clubs or additional electives and courses.
Because extracurricular activities and materials have remained mostly free of charge in the last few years, the biggest change brought by AB 1575 will be seen in the summer school program. This adjustment will give students who were not able to afford more expensive summer courses through the district equal opportunity for placement in classes of their choice. They will not have to settle for second-best or ask for potentially unavailable financial aid. Whether they come from a family of low or high income, students can sign up for desired courses and enjoy interacting with teachers and classmates. A free and equal education will be truly available, and students will be able to absorb the material presented in class without ever worrying about cost or money.
In the same way, underprivileged students will no longer face discrimination if they are unable to pay for extracurricular activities and supplies. In the past, teachers might write on the board the names of students who did not bring in payment for items such as books. But for some, the reason for this was not laziness or forgetfulness—it was a lack of money. Since the public display often allowed other peers to deduce who could and could not afford to pay, many low-income students felt embarrassed. Now, with AB 1575 fully enforced, these students will no longer have to face discomfort due to financial difficulties. School necessities will be provided at no cost to all students, regardless of socioeconomic class or stability.
Students depend on the public school system for many resources. If the system denies them opportunities to grow as pupils, then it is denying them future prospects in college, careers and beyond. The responsibility of a school is to nurture students’ success, whether that be academically, physically, mentally or emotionally. If low-income students are being ignored and pushed down, then the school has not done its duties. AB 1575 will give all students access to any materials they need without singling anyone out, and in the end, all students will benefit.
A Sept. 2010 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which accused public school officials of blatantly violating the free education guarantee decreed in the State Constitution, led to the full enforcement of AB 1575 across California. It is what all students deserve: easy access to aid in creating an enjoyable and secure learning environment. This way, students of high- and low-income families can participate freely without the constant fear of being discriminated or humiliated. The public school system is designed to provide opportunity for all, and if that is to be carried out to its full extent, then implementing the regulations outlined by AB 1575 will surely move us forward towards that goal by providing for all.
—Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the staff (assenting: 32; dissenting: 7; abstaining: 7)