The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said that Ann Arbor Public Schools' decision to charge students $100 per semester to take a seventh hour class is illegal, because it violates the State Constitution.
The ACLU's press release cited the Michigan Constitution, which says that "the Legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law."
In Bond v Ann Arbor School District, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the guarantee of free public education extends to any school district activity that is considered a "necessary element of any school's activity" or an "integral fundamental part of the elementary and secondary education."
About half of the students in AAPS take Advanced Placement courses, art classes or other electives. In order to take these classes and also complete necessary requirements to graduate, these students need to add a 7th class to their daily schedules.
"Forcing public school students to carry the burden of plugging budget holes is misguided and unconstitutional," said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. "Ann Arbor Public Schools has essentially created a two-tiered educational system where those who can pay benefit and those who cannot receive a lesser educational experience all together."
On June 12, Moss and the ACLU's Education Access Legal Fellow Shana Schoem wrote a letter to the Ann Arbor Board of Education, stating that "our system of free public education is founded on the idea that all children should have access to knowledge," but that "the proposal of charging for 7th period flies in the face of this American tradition.
The letter also noted that students who take an extra class during 7th period are able to enrich their educational experience. These opportunities, Moss wrote, make AAPS students competitive applicants as they apply to colleges and universities.
Ann Arbor Public Schools has a budget shortfall this year of $18 million dollars that needs to be made up during the upcoming school year.
The ACLU said that the proposal, which passed Thursday night, would save the school $100,000.
"If a quality education cannot be delivered in this environment, then it is incumbent on the Governor and legislature to find bold and creative solutions that deal with the underlying problems rather than sacrifices the ability of every child in this state to secure a quality education," Moss wrote.
Funding for public schools in Michigan is the center of an ongoing conversation between lawmakers and public school districts. Public school administrators say that state budget cuts are making it increasingly difficult to provide opportunities for students.
-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom