HILLSDALE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 03.jpg (copy)

In this file photo, taken June 1, students in Sarah Harrigfeld’s kindergarten class at Hillsdale Elementary, in the West Ada School District, work on worksheets on the last day of school. Two parents filed a class-action lawsuit against West Ada on Tuesday, asking the district to stop charging for full-day kindergarten.

Editor's note: This article was updated Aug. 8 to clarify the nature of the lawsuit. The goal of the lawsuit is to eliminate kindergarten fees in Idaho, not to require districts to start offering free full-day kindergarten.

Two parents are bringing forward a class-action lawsuit against the West Ada School District for requiring parents to pay tuition for full-day kindergarten.

The two parents, Peyton Gifford and Mollie Gabaldon, have a child enrolled in kindergarten in the district starting fall 2019. The lawsuit, filed in 4th Judicial District Court late Tuesday, seeks to represent all parents and students enrolled in kindergarten across the state.

The West Ada and Boise school districts, among others, only provide a half-day of kindergarten for free. Full-day kindergarten costs $300 per month in West Ada and $50 to $250 in Boise, a sliding-scale fee based on eligibility for free and reduced lunch, according to each district’s website.

“Failure to offer free kindergarten, not only violates the Idaho Constitution, but violates every anti-discrimination law and standard,” the complaint states. “Why? Because requiring parents to pay for the second half of the day, at a rate similar to Boise School District’s $250 per month, disadvantages low income families.”

The complaint also argues that under the Idaho Constitution the legislature is required to provide “free common school.” Despite that, the legislature continues to underfund Idaho schools, requiring them to collect fees from patrons to attend full-day kindergarten, it stated.

The lawsuit seeks to eliminate tuition fees associated with kindergarten in Idaho. Huntley said no schools in Idaho charge tuition for half-day programs, so this lawsuit is specifically targeting districts that offer full-day programs with a fee for the second half of the day. The lawsuit also requires that parents and guardians be reimbursed for kindergarten fees collected “in violation of the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions.”

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The Idaho Press was unable to reach the West Ada School District for comment Tuesday evening.

This lawsuit is one of several filed by retired Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley regarding “unconstitutional student fees.”

In 2012 Russell Joki, a former school board member in Nampa and West Ada, won a lawsuit against the West Ada School District, filed by Huntley, and was refunded $200 for his grandson’s school fees. The district stopped charging the fees, but other school districts around the state continued charging them, for everything from kindergarten to junior class fees to chemistry class materials, the Idaho Press previously reported.

Last year Huntley also brought forward a lawsuit representing two Pocatello parents and four of their children, a recent Pocatello high school graduate, and an Idaho Falls mom and two of her children for similar fees. The lawsuit is still pending, Huntley said.

Several Idaho school districts provide free, all-day kindergarten, including Nampa, Caldwell and Vallivue school districts, according to the complaint. All three school districts announced earlier this year they would begin offering free, all-day kindergarten because of the increased literacy funds from the Idaho Legislature — and in Nampa’s case some federal money. Gov. Brad Little addressed the increased funding as one of his notable accomplishments during a news conference in April reflecting on his first 100 days in office.

Huntley, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1988 and also is a former state representative and former Pocatello city councilman, maintains Idaho is underfunding its schools by some $700 million a year — and that’s pushing school districts to impose the fees to help fill the gap. Huntley estimates schools collect about $20 million of “unconstitutional fees” a year.

“School leaders and patrons should actively insist that the governor and the legislators honor their constitutional duty to properly fund education by increasing taxes as necessary,” Huntley said in a letter sent out Monday. “It is disingenuous sophistry for any political leader, or any other citizen, to claim to support education on the one hand, while on the other hand, being unwilling to raise the necessary revenue to properly fund it.”

Patty Bowen is the Meridian Press reporter. You can reach her at pbowen@idahopress.com or follow her on Twitter @pattybowenMP.

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