Idaho Supreme Court says parents have standing to sue over fees for full-day kindergarten

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

On Monday, the Idaho Supreme Court issued an opinion on standing in the case of Gifford v. West Ada Joint School District #2, in which plaintiffs question the constitutionality of charging fees for full-day kindergarten.

The opinion doesn’t rule on the constitutionality of the fees, remanding the case back to district court.

In Idaho, some schools charge fees for students who attend full-day kindergarten in districts that offer the program. Half-day kindergarten is free.

The lawsuit revolves around Peyton Gifford and Mollie Gabaldon, parents of a child enrolled at Chief Joseph Elementary, who claimed the school district violated Article IX, section 1 of the Idaho Constitution by charging fees for the second half-day of kindergarten.

The Supreme Court said the parents in the case have standing to sue the school district for “educational injury.”

The court’s ruling was on legal standing, not a decision about the actual fees. But the opinion does state that Article IX, section 1 of the Idaho Constitution provides that “it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The parents in the lawsuit alleged that the section “encompasses second half-day kindergarten and that their son has been deprived of that education because they cannot afford West Ada’s fees. In effect, (the) parents contend that their son was constitutionally entitled to 13 years of free public education, yet he will only receive 12 and one half years.”

“In essence, (the) parents are contending, and have made at least a facial showing, that West Ada is running two separate but unequal kindergarten programs—a full-day program for those who can afford it and a half-day program for those who cannot,” according to the court opinion.

The opinion also invoked Brown v. Board of Education, a historic lawsuit that led to the racial integration of public schools across the country, deeming racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. 

The parents’ “complaint identified a whole class of people who could challenge the constitutionality of second half-day kindergarten tuition fees: namely, the other patrons who have collectively paid West Ada $8 million dollars in such fees. Thus, relaxed standing is clearly not warranted,” the opinion stated.  

The Idaho Legislature has debated for years about whether they should fund full-day kindergarten and has never reached a decision. Not every school district offers full-day kindergarten, even if they were to charge fees.

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