Educational Opportunities, a Constitutional Right for all students.

Hartzell v Connell (1984)

Using the analogy of a “band-aid” as a solution for all injuries highlights the ineffectiveness of the equity principle in financing education. Besides raising the question of “fairness’, comes the challenge of financing equal opportunity. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1954 Brown V. Board of Education court case, that it is the constitutional right for students to have equal access to all available opportunities, a “right that must be made available to all at equal terms” (Brimley et. al, 2016, p. 56). However, California faces tough fiscal limitations in meeting the educational needs of all students. Financial difficulty was the influential factor behind many California districts’ decision to implement a “fee-based revenue system” for extracurricular programs such as sports, music, drama, field trips, and even advanced academic courses. According to La Morte (2002), The Santa Barbara High School District School, in the Spring of 1981 was faced with a $1.1. reduction in their budget “due to the combined effects of inflation declining enrollment and the adoption of Proposition 13” (p. 87). To raise funds for extracurricular activities they implemented a fee and a few waiver (for those who could show financial need) for participating in sports, music and drama activities. This practice was considered a violation of constitutional law in The Supreme Court of California ruling in the 1984 Hartzell v. Connell case. The ruling acknowledged that “financial hardship is no defense to a violation of the free school guarantee” (La Morte, p. 88).

A Current Issue

Pay for play sports programs are gaining attention. This past Spring, May 14, 2017,  the San Diego Tribune reported on Torrey Pines High baseball’s ongoing investigation brought on by parent Wendy Gumb,  speaking up about Torry Pines “pay for play” culture. Gumb presented SDUHSD with a 16-page document outlining concerns and demanding transparency on how district funds are used in response to an email requesting a minimum $695 donation for students participating in the baseball program. The district has hired a third party investigation company, The Sobel Group, to look into the matter. For more information on this story click on: Ongoing investigation into Torrey Pines Baseball

Equal treatment is a non-negotiable

In Edwin Darden’s article, “Equity Requires Purposeful Action” the author highlights the Hartzell v Connell ruling, “Educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families’ ability or willingness to pay fees or request special waivers” (Darden, 2013, p. 78). Darden further reported, “This fundamental feature of public education is not contingent upon the inevitably fluctuating financial health of local school districts” (p. 68). Despite this ruling, access to school related activities through a fee-based system continued in California influencing a 2010 civil suit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging “at least 40 school districts listed fees on their web sites in spite of the earlier court ruling” (p. 68). Following the suit’s settlement agreement “to fully reimburse families” and agreement “to create a monitoring and enforcement system against fees”, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law expanding on the earlier ruling “prohibiting schools from charging fees for anything that is ‘educational in character’” (p. 68). Darden’s proactive stance “insists all students and employees receive the support and resources needed to succeed and that equal treatment is non-negotiable and a true priority” (p. 69). The bottom line, the fairness principle in educational policy aligns with both our state and federal constitutional rights.

Adequate funding needed to equal opportunity

Refocusing the intention of public education as an investment in human capital or the potential to generate income and contribute toward the economic function of society is warranted. The reality is that the needs of all students are not equal. Therefore, what is adequate for one’s potential may look different for another’s potential. Keeping in mind the costs to society for those who are not able to contribute, becoming a burden on society is an important component of the “big picture”.  How can we shift society’s mindset of the individual need to win or to be the best to understand the value of coming together, supporting one another to achieve a common goal? This goal of providing an adequate education for all students should be identified as a new priority. And as the saying goes, California should be ready to “put their money where their mouth is”. We can’t just talk about change, we need to implement change and provide the adequate funding to drive much-needed improvement resulting in higher outcomes for all students.



Image retrieved from


Brimley, V., Verstegen, D. A., & Garfield, R. R. (2014). Financing education in a climate of change. Harlow, Essex: Pearson.

Darden, E. C. (2013). Equity requires purposeful action. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(5), 68-69.

La Morte, M. (2002). School law: Cases and concepts. Seventh edition. Boston, MA.: Allyn & Bacon.

Leonard,  T. (May, 14, 2017). Focus | Ongoing investigation focused on Torrey Pines High baseball. San Diego Tribune. Retrieved from




Categories: Uncategorized

Elizabeth Burke

Elizabeth is an educator with a focus on supporting students with exceptionalities. Teaching in public education for 12 years with specialized training in Social Thinking™; Masters in Differentiated Instruction, Doctoral Student in Education Leadership. She enjoys spending time with her family: daughters, son-in laws, son & 4 grandchildren.

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