- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2010

California’s budget deficit has reached an estimated $26.3 billion. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-dominated legislature are scrambling to avoid a total fiscal meltdown in the nation’s most populous state.

During the past two years, the state has cut $17 billion in aid to public schools, prompting nearly 400 districts to slash their budgets, according to a state survey released in June. About a third have laid off teachers, and nearly two-thirds have reduced maintenance. Nearly half have cut out some music and arts programs.

Drowning in red ink like the rest of California’s public institutions, at least 30 school districts have introduced fees for uniforms, classes and some supplies in an effort to stay afloat.

Naturally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took one look at these modest steps back toward fiscal sanity and cried foul.


Last Friday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit demanding suspension of the fees in districts that include the poverty-stricken hamlets of Beverly Hills, Burbank and Long Beach.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in the state with about 700,000 students, was spared a mention in the suit. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines “recently canceled a plan to request a voluntary $24 fee from students participating on sports teams,” according to the Los Angeles Times. It’s a good thing, too, because the L.A. district is already busy fending off a lawsuit that the ACLU filed in February, saying it could not lay off teachers.

One wonders what the schools will have to do to please the ACLU and still stay open: Send squads of teachers armed with pitchforks to chase down taxpayers for more moola?

“Free public schools are the linchpin of our democracy,” Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, said at a press conference. “What we have are ‘pay-to-learn’ schools.”

Let’s be honest. A few fees are not “pay to learn.” The real “pay-to-learn” education is done by home-schoolers and private schools, whose pupils’ parents pay taxes to support government schools while receiving no aid at all for providing a superior education and saving the state tax dollars. In fact, Section 8 of the California Constitution explicitly bars any such aid.

You’d think the taxpaying parents who shoulder a double burden would at least rate a “thank you” note from state officials for saving them so much money and ensuring that at least some California kids can distinguish between Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec snake god, and, say, Thomas Jefferson.

Quetzalcoatl, by the way, is commemorated in San Jose as an 8-foot-tall coiled snake statue in a public park. “According to the Aztecs, he is supposed to have organized the original cosmos,” the AOL Travel Guide reports.

Wouldn’t that make Quetzy a taxpayer-supported religious icon? Where’s the ACLU when you really need them to huff and puff about the mythical “separation of church and state?”

The ACLU school lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that charging fees is “illegal” under the California Constitution, which guarantees all students a “free” public education.

Here’s the relevant language of the California Constitution, Article 9, Section 5: “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.”

There is no language anywhere in the document that bars charging fees, except for textbooks (Section 7.5). The ACLU points to a 1984 state Supreme Court decision in Hartzell v. Connell that barred charging fees for extracurricular school activities. That ruling came under the notoriously left-wing Chief Justice Rose Bird, who, along with two other liberal justices, was removed from office by voters in the next judicial election in 1986 (the key issue was Bird’s vote to overturn verdicts or sentences in 52 straight death penalty cases).

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