ACLU: Charter Schools Can’t Charge Students for Required Exams

August 01, 2014

YPSILANTI, Mich. – In a letter to school officials today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan raised serious concerns regarding Arbor Preparatory High School’s policy and practice of requiring students to pay for Advanced Placement exams in order to receive course credit toward graduation.

The ACLU of Michigan warned that forcing students to pay for essential components of their education violated Michigan law.

“Forcing public school students to pay for exams required for graduation is misguided and unconstitutional,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Arbor Preparatory High School has needlessly created a two-tiered educational system where those who can pay are rewarded while those who cannot are punished.”

Arbor Preparatory High School is a public charter school that advertises itself a “No-Cost College Prep” program. However, in order to graduate from the school, students are required to complete two advanced placement courses. Last school year, parents received a letter from the school notifying them that in order to receive credit toward graduation for those AP courses, their children also had to pay a fee of up to $89 per AP exam.

According to the ACLU of Michigan’s letter, this practice denies students a free and equal public education as required under the Free Schools Clause of the Michigan Constitution. In addition, the ACLU of Michigan cites a 1970 court order that prevents public schools from charging fees for programs that are necessary elements of the educational process. Since AP exams are required for graduation, Arbor Prep’s policy is unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Michigan wrote: “In 1972, Michigan’s State Board of Education issued a position statement on school fees, as a follow up to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1970. The State Board reiterated that school districts may not charge any fees for required or elective courses such as for general or registration fees, course fees, or textbooks and school supplies.”

This isn’t the first time the ACLU of Michigan has been involved in advocacy to prevent public schools from charging for programs essential for graduation.

Last year, the ACLU of Michigan sued the Ann Arbor Schools to stop the district from implementing a new “tuition-based” program that charged students $100 per semester for access to a seventh hour class. After the lawsuit was filed, the district reversed its decision.

Key News and Documents

Read the letter we wrote to Arbor Prep

Read about last year's case against Ann Arbor Public Schools