California Group: Requiring Parents to Volunteer at Charters is Wrong


An education rights group in California is arguing against charter schools that require parents to volunteer their time in order for their children to attend, saying that doing so is in violations of multiple laws that provide public education free of cost.

Public Advocates Inc. looked into 555 of the 1,130 charter schools that operate in the state, finding that about one-third of them require parents to donate "service hours."

"They call these policies ‘required volunteer hours' or ‘mandatory service hours,' but when work is required, it's not voluntary," Hilary Hammell, an attorney for the nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, said during an online press conference Thursday. "Requiring mandatory donations of time, money or goods is illegal in California's public schools."

According to the group, the unpaid hours are in violation of the "free schools" clause found in the California Constitution, as well as the education code, which was amended in 2012 to clearly state that public schools cannot ask for "donations of service" from families.

Hammell went on to say that the act promotes the enrollment of students from wealthy families.

"It's both wrong and unlawful to punish a child for something his parents can't or won't do, and it's those children from resource-strapped families who may need nurturing public schools the most," she said.

Research by the group found that those schools who require the donation of time do in fact enroll fewer low-income students, English language learners, and foster children than other non-charter schools in the same districts.

Such policies were discovered in schools across the state. Parents are typically required to sign a contract that states they will volunteer for a certain number of hours. Parents are then asked to keep track of those hours in a log.

Parents unable to fulfill the quota are sometimes allowed to purchase hours for somewhere between $6 and $25 an hour, or make a donation of goods to the school.

Families at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center are required to donate between 80 and 120 hours each year.

"Their participation is critical to the success of our school," the school states on its website. "Families support the school by assisting in the classroom, driving on field trips, organizing fund-raisers, participating in the governance of the school, and many other activities."

Families who cannot physically donate their time are allowed to purchase up to 50% of their hours at a rate of $15 per hour.

Upon the release of their report, the group sent a letter to the California Department of Education asking for an issue of guidance pertaining to the 2012 changes to the education code. In addition, the group is asking for a retraction of the 2006 memo allowing charter schools to require families to volunteer.

"It's obviously creating confusion in the field and needs to be clearly revoked," John Affeldt, managing attorney for the nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization. "The memo contains no analysis of whether or not compelled donated services are a school fee and precedes the 2012 law clarifying that in fact compelled services are an unlawful group of fees."

If their demands are not met, the group is prepared to take their case to court.

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