The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of California and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for allowing schools from about 50 school districts to charge fees for textbooks, uniforms and extracurricular activities.
"By creating a system that is pay to learn we are undermining that public school system and we are undermining the foundation of our democracy," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief council of the ACLU of Southern California.
The suit says one plaintiff, identified only as Jason Roe, who appeared with his mother in a video played at the press conference, said he lost points toward his Spanish grade because he bought a less expensive binder than his teacher had specified.
"She had recommended a brand and we went to a less expensive store and got a less expensive brand and she didn't like it because it wasn't exactly the same even though he had all the dividers and such," said the mother, whose face, like that of her son, was cropped out of the video to protect her identity.
Most of the parents say that paying for school supplies are just part of life when it comes to their child's education, but the cost are starting to add up.
"It is super expensive. Everything they want to be takes equipment, supplies and it gets really pricey," said Vanessa Trujillo of Pasadena.
"As a taxpayer I am willing to pay more to have kids go to public school and not have to have parents be responsible for paying for additional books," said Mike Martinez of Beaumont.
The lawsuit cites a 1984 California Supreme Court ruling in saying that such financial obligations on public school students violates the state constitution.
It seeks an injunction directing the state government to publicize and enforce regulations prohibiting districts from imposing unconstitutional fees for courses for academic credit.
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