The ACLU of RI and RI Legal Services are pleased that RI Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner rejected Warwick's request to charge students for, among other things, busing them to school.
PROVIDENCE, RI - The ACLU of Rhode Island and R.I. Legal Services today called on R.I. Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner to reject a request from the Warwick School Committee to allow the school district to charge students for busing them to school and for participation in school sports activities. While the school committee made the request to deal with budgetary problems, a letter sent today to Wagner from the two organizations said that “such fees are not only contrary to law, they are also contrary to Rhode Island’s longstanding policy of ensuring that public education is free and therefore equally available to all children regardless of economic status.”
The letter notes: “For decades, Commissioners of Education … have invalidated attempts by local school districts to levy fees on student programming as varied as night classes, after-school activities, interscholastic sports and Advanced Placement classes.”
The groups’ letter also warned: “To grant this request would not only undermine a century and a half of educational policy, it would open the door to every other school district seeking similar – or even more expansive - waivers in order to balance their budgets on the backs of students and their families. While we recognize that some districts may be struggling financially, transferring costs to families cannot be part of the solution.”
RILS Education Law attorney Veronika Kot said today: “It is a fundamental principle of Rhode Island law and policy that public education is free and that students cannot be charged for school services, including transportation and athletic or enrichment activities. Such charges inevitably create a two tier-education system, with better programming for those who can afford it and inferior programming for those who can’t.”
ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown added: “No family of limited means should have to worry about whether they can afford to have their child bused to his public school or be able to participate in an important extracurricular activity. We appreciate the school district’s financial problems, but imposing fees on students is inappropriate and unlawful. We hope this request will be rejected.”