- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Supreme Court says the state can’t be named as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fees many public schools charge for classes, supplies and activities.

Former Nampa Schools Superintendent Russell Joki filed the lawsuit in 2012 against the state and school districts across Idaho, saying that fees imposed for certain classes and supplies violate the constitutional promise of a free public education. Along with the state, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, the Department of Education and the Legislature were also named as defendants.

But a lower court dismissed the state as a defendant because Joki didn’t first sue the individual districts and then seek permission from a judge to add the state to the case, as outlined in the 1996 Constitutionally Based Educational Claims Act, or CBECA.

The act - amended in 2003 in response to a separate school funding lawsuit - requires anyone seeking to sue over certain educational issues to first take the case to the local district before getting the state involved.

The high court’s ruling handed down Thursday upheld the lower court’s decision.

Joki merely recites the wide ranging responsibilities of the state defendants, then, in a conclusory manner, asserts that the state defendants are proper defendants,” wrote Justice Warren Jones in the nine-page unanimous ruling. “To properly add the state defendants, Joki was required to comply with (Idaho law.) He did not.”

According to Joki, two of his grandchildren enrolled in public school were each charged $45 in 2012 to register for kindergarten. The money was used to cover field trips, school and art supplies, and even milk for snacks. Another grandson had to pay $85 in fees for chemistry, art and sports medicine classes as well as for “junior class dues.”

Meanwhile, the courts have agreed that Idaho’s Constitution does require free and uniform public schools. In 2015, a lower court agreed with an amended complaint filed by Joki that certain fees imposed by West Ada School District were unconstitutional.

However, the ruling did not order the school district to stop charging fees. Instead, it required the district to repay what Joki was “improperly forced to pay.”

Joki’s claim fell squarely within the definition of a constitutionally based educational claim because the Legislature’s duty is to provide free common schools,” justices wrote on Thrusday.

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