Parents Required to Pay for School Laptops

By Deane Barker on January 3, 2006

Schools ask parents to pay up before kids log on: Fullerton wants all their kids to have laptops. And they want all the parents to pay for them,

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.

What if a parent doesn’t pay? Does their kid get left out? Is it like band uniforms or sports equipment that the school should pay for?

We’re going through something similar in South Dakota. The state wants kids to have laptops, and it wants the local school districts to pay for most of them. In the end, Steve, Michael, and Bill are the ones getting rich.

(But in a larger sense, do first graders need laptops? Should they have them? Can you trust a first grader with a $1,500 piece of equipment? Is it healthy to have them thinking in “computer mode” this early in their lives? Lots of questions, few answers)



  1. as a teacher who gets to see this stuff first hand, it seems that school’s administrators are eager to introduce “technology” without a really good understanding of how it will contribute to a child’s education. the sad thing is that the money could often have been used for something else much more useful (as in more teachers?), but in an effort to appear to be on the cutting edge, they spend money on things that actually get in the way instead.

  2. Here’s one good reason why it’s probably not a good thing:

    “Everything I ever heard was that children should be exposed to computers and given every opportunity to learn from them,” Ms. Page said in an interview.

    That’s from Justin’s mom in the NY Times article that you linked to earlier about child pornography.

  3. “Can you trust a first grader with a $1,500 piece of equipment? Is it healthy to have them thinking in “computer mode” this early in their lives? Lots of questions, few answers)”

    No one said anything about first graders, The govenor said all students 9-12 would revieve one. And besides, right now is a good time for kids to learn about computers, given the world we live in.

  4. No one said anything about first graders

    Read the article. It clearly states that Fullerton is including some students as early as first grade.

  5. 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.


    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

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