Free Public Education

Section 5 of Article IX of California Constitution guarantees students a "free public education."  

  • All educational activities carried on by public school districts, extra-curricular as well as curricula, must be without cost to the students who participate in such activities
  • No mandatory fees

Article IX, Section 5 of the California Constitution states:  “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district.”  In Hartzell v. Connell35 Cal.3d.899, 913 (1984), the Supreme Court of California unambiguously held that this provision prohibits public school from charging mandatory fees for educational activities.  Id. at 911.  The courts concluded that educational activities include both curricular and extracurricular activities.  The Court flatly rejected the argument that a fee-waiver policy that allowed for schools to charge fees for educational activities: “Educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families’ ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers.” Id. at 913. Thus, whenever a public school offers a curricular or extracurricular program to students, the California Constitution requires that the school provide all materials, supplies, and equipment—whether they are necessary or supplementary to the program – to students free of charge.

The constitutional prohibition against requiring public school students to pay fees or purchase materials for educational activities is codified in Education Code 60070, which prohibits school officials from requiring students to purchase instructional materials, and reinforced by Title 5, Section 350 of the California Code of Regulations, which prohibits schools from requiring students to pay any fee, deposit or other charge not specifically authorized by law.  Public schools may solicit and accept donations from parents or the broader community, so long as the fundraising program is voluntary and contributing is not a requirement for participating in an educational activity.