Former Nampa schools superintendent challenges constitutionality of Idaho school fees
Man suing Idaho for school fees Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
Education reform has already gone from the Statehouse to the voting booth and now it seems it’s headed to the courts.
A Meridian grandfather and former Nampa Schools superintendent is suing to try and stop school fees, but his fight isn't just against one district, he's taking on the entire legislature.
"Enough is enough Idaho," said Russell Joki.
Joki never wants to pay another dime to a public k-12 school again, and he's suing the entire education system. From the state, to schools superintendent Tom Luna, to every single district, to try and stop schools from charging fees.
"It is a form of segregation and discrimination," said Joki.
The former local superintendent became fed up after forking over $175 in fees this fall for his three grandchildren. The cash covered things like chemistry class, junior dues, art supplies and snacks.
"We believe no family should be humiliated when they go to a public school and hope to enroll with the expectation that it is supposed to be free," he said.
Joki's lawsuit takes on more than just school fees. He's even asking the courts to do away with back to school supply lists.
"You take them shopping for clothes or shoes and then you think a notebook...that should get them started, but then you receive the supply list,” he said. “And it's a full page. We think it’s gone too far."
But isn't this a way - school fees - for schools to be able to dig out a little bit from this funding hole?
"That's a hole that should not have been dug because that's the hole that's being dug into the pockets of parents," Joki said.
He claims school fees violate the state constitution, specifically article 9. which reads:
"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."
"One thing this lawsuit is doing is publicizing a problem," said former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Huntly, who is Joki's attorney.
He's also sued the state over school funding before and won. In a 2005 decision, the Idaho Supreme Court wrote: "The current funding system is simply not sufficient to carry out the legislature's duty under the constitution."
But the judicial branch never forced the legislature to find a solution. Huntley thinks Joki's case may finally do just that.
"Fact is, in the case relative to fees, we want legislation to pay additional appropriations and not take it out on school districts,” said Huntly. “Secondly, we are pointing out education is underfunded and to the extent results in the legislature finally appropriating more money we will in the long run netted the school district more money."
Huntley argues that current education funding just doesn't add up for schools, and Joki knows from experience the pressure that can place on parents’ wallets.
"It has reached a point where it has to stop," Joki said.
He said he'll do whatever it takes, even taking this case to the state supreme court, to hold legislators accountable to students.
The lawsuit does not propose a specific solution to funding schools, stating that the constitution clearly gives that "duty" to the legislature. But Joki does want school fees to stop immediately and for schools to return an estimated two million dollars parents paid out this school year.
All the attorney general’s office would say is that the AG has filed a motion to dismiss the case arguing that any lawsuit like this must first start with a suit against the person's own school district.