A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Now what was it Locke said? Life, liberty, and laptops?

Fullerton, California has jumped on the bandwagon to encourage computer literacy in students. Officials in the district want students as young as first grade to have an Apple G4 iBook. But here’s where the fun begins: they expect parents to pay for the computers.
Heather Sutherland was excited to learn her public school system was using laptop computers to teach elementary students such as her daughter. Until, that is, she found out parents were expected to pay the nearly $1,500 cost.

“I said, ‘What? You must be joking,' ” Sutherland says. “I think it's unfair that the (school district) is requiring us to ‘pay to learn.' ”

The public school system in this quiet city 27 miles southeast of Los Angeles is pushing the frontiers of computer technology in the classroom with a program that puts a laptop computer into the backpacks of children as early as first grade. It is pushing the boundaries of financing, too, by asking parents to pay $500 a year for three years so each of more than 2,000 elementary and middle school children can have their own Apple iBook G4 laptop….

The Fullerton program, at four of 20 district schools, has created a storm of controversy for the school system and its superintendent, Cameron McCune. It also has raised broader questions about how far public schools here and elsewhere can go in using costly technology in the face of tight school budgets and limited funding.

Some parents worry that whatever its educational benefits, the program has created an expensive burden for struggling families and has forged new divisions in the public schools.

Sutherland, who kept her 11-year-old daughter out of the program, is concerned that it creates “a horrible form of financial segregation.”

“It's mind-boggling that they would even suggest such a thing,” Sutherland says.

Some parents say the financial expectations and price tag violate California's constitutional guarantee of a free public education — a principle also in other state constitutions. The parents are threatening a lawsuit and have enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The California constitution is very, very clear: My children attend a free public school,” Sandra Dingess says.

Dingess moved three of her four children to another school within the district to avoid the big computer bill and what she says was the embarrassment her children faced from being unable to pay. Her fourth child, an eighth-grader, remained in the program for a final year.


Now some people might say that there is no difference between having a bond issue to help the district to provide computers and having the parents buy the computers outright. I would disagree. If a family has three children in this program, they are being asked to pay $1500 a year in addition to their taxes and the cost of all the other incidentals involved in their children’s education. Suspicious, cynical me also wonders if this isn’t going to lead to economic segregation in these schools, with a corresponding rise in test scores when the less affluent parents transfer their children out, as Ms. Dingess did.

Further, although I love Apple products myself, I’m not so sure a school district should force consumers to purchase a certain brand of computer (in the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I am also an Apple shareholder. As such, I would be furious if I were forced to purchase a relic of the Microsoft Empire and thereby pollute into my pristine, Mac-filled home, heh heh.)

I also doubt the efficacy of placing an iBook in the hands of a first grader. How long do you think it would take a six-year-old to break an iBook? I’m not willing to let my kids play with mine to find out, but I bet it would be one week, at the outside, especially if it was in my kids’ backpacks (shudder!) which get slung around more that a calf in a rodeo roping contest—I actually watched my adventurous middle child slide down a snow-covered hill on hers once. True, maybe the kids would take better care of the computers if they were theirs. I have a long-standing policy of never giving pencils to students who don’t have one, from the bitter experience of learning that when you give something away, it becomes worthless in the eyes of the recipient. But since the kids themselves would not be paying for the computers, I still predict that the machines would be treated the way most of their other toys are.

I wonder if anyone has connected California’s wacky experiments in “taxpayer rights,” like the infamous Proposition 13, to the decision of the school district to pass the cost for a required piece of equipment directly to the parents? Once again, you CAN’T get something for nothing, people! You can’t be guaranteed a free public education in the California constitution, and have cutting edge technology in the schools, and have low taxes.

9 Comments:

At 1/3/06, 8:10 AM, Blogger Amerloc said...

"You can’t be guaranteed a free public education in the California constitution, and have cutting edge technology in the schools, and have low taxes."

The Law of Unintended Consequences rears its ugly head yet again.

 
At 1/4/06, 6:43 PM, Blogger Mr. Lawrence said...

Last year, I made the mistake of trusting a group of third graders to put the laptops *back* in the slots on the cart after they were finished with them. One almost dropped it, but she caught it with part of her foot and it was only a light 'thud.' I learned, I learned ....

Oh, and I see you're listening to the My Morning Jacket album, "Z." That one's really amazing.

 
At 1/4/06, 7:06 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yeah, I'm loving it!

Computers aren't going to put to rest our concerns about the education of our children, especially if they're broken!

 
At 1/7/06, 5:07 PM, Blogger GuusjeM said...

Great, yet another thing for a teacher to do - don't they realize how much time a teacher will spend TROUBLESHOOTING the things? Plus what's going to happen when they are broken, lost, dropped or stolen?

 
At 1/11/06, 10:33 AM, Blogger Mr. C said...

Been meaning to comment on this one for a week, now...
I actually live in Fullerton, and while my kids' school is not one of the program schools, it is a program that the district would like to see go district-wide.
I'm kind of conflicted about the whole issue. On the one hand, I think access to technology in the lower grades is critical, especially in those areas where students don't have access at home, the Digital Divide. On the other, I can see the problem many parents in the communtiy have with being required to purchase something as expensive as a laptop, and being given no choice as to the brand/configuration/etc.
My second-grade nephew is at one of the program schools, and carts his iBook to school every day. So far, he hasn't dropped it or had it stolen, but has spilled something inot his backpack while it was in there. Should we trust an 8-year-old with $1500 worth of equipment every day? Can we trust the high-school kids in the neighborhood, who would be aware of the program, to not mug the little ones on the way to/from school? What options do parents have? Being required to move you child from his/her neighborhood school because you can't or don't want to buy the laptop is unjust.
There are a lot of issues to consider, and I don't think the superintendent did a very good job considering them before going ahead with this program.

 
At 1/23/06, 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the “Free School Guarantee” Really
Mean Public Schools Are Supposed To Be Free?
– What The Law Says --

Much has been said and written about the Fullerton School District’s “Laptops for Learning” 1:1 laptop program, whereby elementary and junior high-aged children at four Fullerton schools have access to an Apple iBook laptop computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a cost of approximately $1,500 per computer, per child. Fullerton parents (and most recently the ACLU of Southern California) have questioned whether or not the laptop program violates our children’s right a free public education as guaranteed under the California Constitution.

WHAT DOES THE LAW REALLY SAY?

The controlling case with respect to school fees is the 1984 California Supreme Court case of Hartzell v. Connell. In Hartzell, the Santa Barbara High School District, in the face of decreased revenue for public school funding, adopted a plan whereby students would be charged $25 for participation on each athletic team, as well as $25 for participation in each other extracurricular activity (drama, vocal music groups, band and cheerleading). The District’s plan also provided for a fee waiver program whereby students with financial need could apply for a scholarship.

A lawsuit was filed, which claimed the School District’s plan violated California’s free school and equal protection guarantees.

The Hartzell court noted that the California Constitution mandated that the legislature “provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district. . . .” The court went on to discuss the history of the free school guarantee in California and its importance to a democratic form of government.

The fees at issue in the Hartzell case pertained to extracurricular activities. However, the court clearly indicated it valued extracurricular as much as curricular activities by stating that extracurricular activities are “no less fitted for the ultimate purpose of our public schools, to wit, the making of good citizens physically, mentally, and morally, than the study of algebra and Latin. . . .’”

The Hartzell court went on to state that “all educational activities – curricular or ‘extracurricular’ – offered to students by school districts fall within the free school guarantee . . . .”

It’s interesting that in attempting to defend charging $1,500 for a laptop computer, the Fullerton School District has repeatedly cited that per pupil funding in California is far below that of other States. The Santa Barbara High School District also raised issues pertaining to budgetary constraints. However, the Hartzell court dismissed those argues and indicated “financial hardship is no defense to a violation of the free school guarantee.” The court also stated that equally accessible “public education is not contingent upon the inevitably fluctuating financial health of local school districts. A solution to those financial difficulties must be found elsewhere . . . .”

The Fullerton School District has indicated that no child has been excluded from participating in the laptop program because of “financial hardship” and that such children can obtain fee waivers or financial assistance. The Santa Barbara High School District also had a fee waiver provision in place. However, the Hartzell court dismissed the School Board’s argument that the fee waiver provision of its plan satisfied the free school guarantee. The Court held “the free school guarantee reflects the people’s judgment that a child’s public education is too important to be left to the budgetary circumstances and decisions of individual families. It makes no distinction between needy and non-needy families. . . . The free school guarantee lifts budgetary decisions concerning public education out of the individual family setting and requires that such decisions be made by the community as a whole. Once the community has decided that a particular educational program is important enough to be offered by its public schools, a student’s participation in that program cannot be made to depend upon his or her family’s decision whether to pay a fee or buy a toaster.”

The Fullerton School District has clearly made the decision that the laptop program is important enough to be offered to our children. As the Fullerton School District is mandated by law to comply with the free school guarantee as set forth in the California Constitution and the Hartzell case, the laptop program must be offered free of charge. Although the requirement to comply with the free school guarantee may create financial hardships for our public school district, or force them to make tough choices regarding what kinds of programs it can offer, the California Supreme Court held that the potential damage to students created by ineffective fee policies clearly outweighs the need for some of these programs.

The Hartzell case achieves the goals of public education and ensures that the children of needy and non-needy families are provided an education. That education can come in many forms, including laptop computers, athletics, choir, drama or band. However, all California public school districts – including the Fullerton School District – must provide all educational activities – curricular or extracurricular – in accordance with the law and in keeping with the free school guarantee.

In summary, the State of California provides for a system of free public education in its Constitution. If a school district cannot afford a particular program, the solution is not to turn to parents to fund their child’s education, as those same parents have already paid for their child’s education through the payment of taxes. To request the parents to pay more would be tantamount to double taxation. The best forum for changes in school fee policies is at the State level (by contacting your State representatives and showing up on election day).

The Fullerton School District’s laptop program is not being funded by the District. Instead, the District has turned to parents and required that they pay almost $1,500 in order for their child to participate in the program. Is this a violation of California law? If it is, are you willing to sit idly by while the Fullerton School District violates your child’s rights? If you let them charge for a laptop, what next — textbooks? science materials? rent on your child’s desk?

My advice? Demand that the Fullerton School District abide by the law and not force you to pay-to-learn.

Heather Sutherland
Fullerton Parents for Good Public Education
www.FullertonParents.org

 
At 1/23/06, 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the “Free School Guarantee” Really
Mean Public Schools Are Supposed To Be Free?
– What The Law Says --

Much has been said and written about the Fullerton School District’s “Laptops for Learning” 1:1 laptop program, whereby elementary and junior high-aged children at four Fullerton schools have access to an Apple iBook laptop computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a cost of approximately $1,500 per computer, per child. Fullerton parents (and most recently the ACLU of Southern California) have questioned whether or not the laptop program violates our children’s right a free public education as guaranteed under the California Constitution.

WHAT DOES THE LAW REALLY SAY?

The controlling case with respect to school fees is the 1984 California Supreme Court case of Hartzell v. Connell. In Hartzell, the Santa Barbara High School District, in the face of decreased revenue for public school funding, adopted a plan whereby students would be charged $25 for participation on each athletic team, as well as $25 for participation in each other extracurricular activity (drama, vocal music groups, band and cheerleading). The District’s plan also provided for a fee waiver program whereby students with financial need could apply for a scholarship.

A lawsuit was filed, which claimed the School District’s plan violated California’s free school and equal protection guarantees.

The Hartzell court noted that the California Constitution mandated that the legislature “provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district. . . .” The court went on to discuss the history of the free school guarantee in California and its importance to a democratic form of government.

The fees at issue in the Hartzell case pertained to extracurricular activities. However, the court clearly indicated it valued extracurricular as much as curricular activities by stating that extracurricular activities are “no less fitted for the ultimate purpose of our public schools, to wit, the making of good citizens physically, mentally, and morally, than the study of algebra and Latin. . . .’”

The Hartzell court went on to state that “all educational activities – curricular or ‘extracurricular’ – offered to students by school districts fall within the free school guarantee . . . .”

It’s interesting that in attempting to defend charging $1,500 for a laptop computer, the Fullerton School District has repeatedly cited that per pupil funding in California is far below that of other States. The Santa Barbara High School District also raised issues pertaining to budgetary constraints. However, the Hartzell court dismissed those argues and indicated “financial hardship is no defense to a violation of the free school guarantee.” The court also stated that equally accessible “public education is not contingent upon the inevitably fluctuating financial health of local school districts. A solution to those financial difficulties must be found elsewhere . . . .”

The Fullerton School District has indicated that no child has been excluded from participating in the laptop program because of “financial hardship” and that such children can obtain fee waivers or financial assistance. The Santa Barbara High School District also had a fee waiver provision in place. However, the Hartzell court dismissed the School Board’s argument that the fee waiver provision of its plan satisfied the free school guarantee. The Court held “the free school guarantee reflects the people’s judgment that a child’s public education is too important to be left to the budgetary circumstances and decisions of individual families. It makes no distinction between needy and non-needy families. . . . The free school guarantee lifts budgetary decisions concerning public education out of the individual family setting and requires that such decisions be made by the community as a whole. Once the community has decided that a particular educational program is important enough to be offered by its public schools, a student’s participation in that program cannot be made to depend upon his or her family’s decision whether to pay a fee or buy a toaster.”

The Fullerton School District has clearly made the decision that the laptop program is important enough to be offered to our children. As the Fullerton School District is mandated by law to comply with the free school guarantee as set forth in the California Constitution and the Hartzell case, the laptop program must be offered free of charge. Although the requirement to comply with the free school guarantee may create financial hardships for our public school district, or force them to make tough choices regarding what kinds of programs it can offer, the California Supreme Court held that the potential damage to students created by ineffective fee policies clearly outweighs the need for some of these programs.

The Hartzell case achieves the goals of public education and ensures that the children of needy and non-needy families are provided an education. That education can come in many forms, including laptop computers, athletics, choir, drama or band. However, all California public school districts – including the Fullerton School District – must provide all educational activities – curricular or extracurricular – in accordance with the law and in keeping with the free school guarantee.

In summary, the State of California provides for a system of free public education in its Constitution. If a school district cannot afford a particular program, the solution is not to turn to parents to fund their child’s education, as those same parents have already paid for their child’s education through the payment of taxes. To request the parents to pay more would be tantamount to double taxation. The best forum for changes in school fee policies is at the State level (by contacting your State representatives and showing up on election day).

The Fullerton School District’s laptop program is not being funded by the District. Instead, the District has turned to parents and required that they pay almost $1,500 in order for their child to participate in the program. Is this a violation of California law? If it is, are you willing to sit idly by while the Fullerton School District violates your child’s rights? If you let them charge for a laptop, what next — textbooks? science materials? rent on your child’s desk?

My advice? Demand that the Fullerton School District abide by the law and not force you to pay-to-learn.

Heather Sutherland
Fullerton Parents for Good Public Education
www.FullertonParents.org

 
At 1/24/06, 12:52 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Wow. That was fascinating, Heather. Do you mind if I post it on the blog?

 
At 4/28/06, 12:23 PM, Anonymous Heather Sutherland said...

Fullerton Parents for Good Public Education is a parent group which was formed in response to the Fullerton School District’s “Laptops for Learning” program whereby elementary and junior high-aged children at four Fullerton schools have access to an Apple iBook laptop computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at a cost of approximately $1,500 per computer, per child. Despite the fact that FSD is a public school district, the FSD was not paying this $1,500, but had instead turned to parents and required that they pay this sum in order for their child to participate in the program.

FPGPE felt the “pay-to-play” component of the laptop program was illegal and retained the services of the American Civil Liberties Union. FPGPE and the ACLU rightly claimed that the FSD was violating the free school guarantee provided public school students under the California Constitution, which states that public school districts cannot impose fees for any educational activities they offer. As such, a free public education is a fundamental right guaranteed our children under the California Constitution.

FPGPE, the ACLU and the FSD entered into a settlement agreement which removed the “pay-to-play” component of the laptop program. As such, the FSD may no longer require that a family pay for their child to participate in the laptop program. The FSD was required to make this change and remove the parent-pay requirement as this“pay-to-play” component of the laptop program violated California law.

FPGPE provides the following summary in order to assist Fullerton families and others in understanding the “before” and “after” of the laptop program. If you should have additional questions concerning the laptop program, we would encourage you to contact us via e-mail at “info@FullertonParents.org.”

Thank you and best wishes to you and your family.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

BEFORE FPGPE AND THE ACLU DISPUTED THE LEGALITY
OF THE FSD LAPTOP PROGRAM


PAY-TO-PLAY, UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAPTOP PROGRAM

1. If the program was implemented at your child’s school, you were required to pay approximately $1,500 for your child to participate in the program, or your child had to change schools.

2. If the laptop program was implemented at your child’s school and you requested financial assistance to pay for a laptop for your child, you were subjected to humiliating financial scrutiny, including face-to-face meetings with District personnel and demands for tax returns and other personal financial information.


3. When FPGPE disputed the legality of the “pay-to-play” aspect of the program, the FSD proposed a “remedy” to this program by suggesting the creation of laptop and non-laptop classes. They later dropped this idea when FPGPE objected to this unfair segregation into the “haves” and “have-nots.”

4. You had no say as to whether or not the laptop program was implemented at your child’s school. While the FSD made claims that the decision was collaborative, in reality the decision was top-down and parents had little or no input.

5. While settlement discussions were ongoing, the FSD proposed that the four laptop schools would be designated as “alternative schools,” which could cause neighborhood kids to be displaced for their home school. This idea was also later dropped by the FSD when the school community objected.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

AFTER FPGPE AND THE ACLU’S
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE FSD


PAYMENT NOT REQUIRED - STUDENTS CAN PARTICIPATE AT NO COST

1. The FSD will no longer be permitted to illegally charge parents for their child to participate in the laptop program. Instead, parents will be given the option to (1) pay for a laptop computer and own the laptop at the end of the lease term, or (2) borrow a laptop computer at no cost.

2. All parents who have paid sums in the past, or who are presently paying, for their child to participate in the FSD laptop program will have the option to (1) continue under the lease agreement and own the laptop at the end of the lease term, (2) rescind/cancel their contract and seek a refund, or (3) rescind/cancel their contract and not seek a refund.

3. All parents who have paid (or are paying) for laptop computers will be eligible to seek a refund of the sums paid.

4. If a school is interested in implementing the laptop program at their school site, two informational meetings must be held to disseminate information to parents. Further, an impartial survey of parents will be conducted, with survey results posted to the FSD website.

5. If the survey indicates that a school would like to proceed forward with implementing the laptop program at their site, the principal must indicate that the school can finance the program and that it has met the required 90% financial threshold. That is, the school must indicate that it has the money to fund the program through a combination of voluntary parent purchases, grant monies and/or local/state/federal funds. If a school is unable to meet this 90% threshold, the program will not move forward at that school.

6. If a parent wishes to purchase a laptop computer through the FSD (as opposed to borrowing a computer at no cost), but requires financial assistance, such a request will be processed pursuant to the FSD’s District-wide policy for aid/scholarships (which prior to this settlement differed from school-to-school).

7. Children whose parents agree to voluntarily purchase a laptop computer will be treated in the same manner as children whose parents elect to borrow a laptop from the school at no cost. That is, purchasers and borrowers will commence and discontinue using their laptops in class at the same point in the school year. Further, the laptops will be functionally equivalent with regard to hardware, software and speed.

8. Because the FSD has proven to be disinterested in respecting the constitutional rights of Fullerton parents and children, the FSD will be required to pay homage to the free school guarantee by including the following statement in any materials describing the laptop program: “The Fullerton School District is committed to the California constitutional mandate of making educational activities available to all students without regard to their family’s ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

FPGPE is very pleased with this settlement agreement. Many had claimed that we were objecting to the educational merit of the laptop program, or that we weren’t willing to “sacrifice” for our children or were looking for a “free ride.” Nothing could be further from the truth. FPGPE is made up of a large group of committed parents, school volunteers, room moms and dads, PTA members, coaches, and Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders. In short, we “sacrifice” for our children every day.

FPGPE could not sit idly by when we observed that the FSD was violating our children’s Constitutional right to a free public education, a fundamental right that has been part of the fabric of our society for many years. Education is the cornerstone of a democratic society and FPGPE knows the importance of an educated citizenry. We could not sit by and allow the FSD to chip away at a right – a right that if violated could have far-reaching, long-term implications. We chose to draw the line for our children and future generations so that the message would be sent loud and clear – we will not allow a public school district to require payment over and above the taxes we already pay and the donations we already make when opening this door could eventually result in California’s school children being priced out of an education.

Thank you to all who helped us fight for Fullerton’s children and the free school guarantee.

 

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