Alleging that school districts throughout the State of Idaho are illegally assessing and collecting fees for supplies and elective courses, three parents and a former high school student have filed a federal litigation claiming that these fees violate the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution by taking unlawfully people’s property — i.e., money (Zeyen v.Boise Sch. Dist # 1 et al). The defendants include all of the school districts in the state as well as a number of charter schools; and the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status to represent all public school students in the case.
The suit cites a provision in the Idaho constitution that requires the legislature to “establish a system of free common schools.” Previous state court rulings had held that the assessment of fees violated the state constitution, but the impetus for filing the present case is that many school districts have continued to assess fees despite the state court rulings and that the remedies in these cases were inconsistent (the judge in one case ruled that the plaintiffs were entitled to be reimbursed for fees they already had paid, while the court in the other case said they weren’t.)
While the suit targets these fees, the goal, according to T. Jason Wood, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, is to force the legislature to raise school spending. Wood and his co-counsel, Robert C. Huntley, believe that inadequate state funding has led to a situation where Idaho is not fulfilling its mandate under the state Constitution “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”
“They seem to just kind of wink and nod at the Idaho Constitution and its requirement that they provide a free, adequate and thorough … public education for its citizens,” Wood said.
The fees in question total an estimated $20 million a year, according to a cover letter accompanying the lawsuit Wood and Huntley sent to school districts.