Legal Briefing - Shouldn't school supplies be free?


Dear John, When I was a child, back-to-school shopping was all about buying clothes, backpacks and lunch boxes. School supplies like glue, scissors and pencils were all provided by the school. Aren't our students entitled to a free education?


Un-educated Rita

1The Washington state Constitution states in part, "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex." This does imply that the education of our state's children should be at no cost to them.

Unfortunately, the discussion cannot end there. The reason for this is because of the term "the education." There is a philosophical divide about the definition of this term. Some believe that children can be educated without pencils, paper, scissors and glue. Others believe that these are essential for providing an education. Often, school employees and districts are caught in the middle of this debate by being given limited funds to perform ever-increasing responsibilities.

There have been legal challenges to the definition of what should be included in a "free education." In California, fees for participating in social and athletic clubs were struck down because it was determined they were a part of the curriculum. However, fees for bus usage by foreign exchange students on athletic teams were upheld.

Until the debate of what constitutes "the education" is resolved, or until schools return to a level of funding that permits them to have truly "ample provision," parents will find themselves presented with an ever-lengthening list of back-to-school items.



P.S. By way of full-disclosure, it was my mother who sued the state of California because she did not think that students should have to pay for drama club membership.

John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at


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