School Fees
7:26 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Judge Dismisses Part Of A Case Over Idaho School Fees

Robert Huntley represents the plaintiffs in Joki v. Idaho.
Robert Huntley represents the plaintiffs in Joki v. Idaho.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

A judge has tossed out part of a case to change education funding in Idaho. The case, known as "Joki vs. the State of Idaho," was filed last fall alleging it was unconstitutional for school districts to charge fees for classes. Wednesday’s hearing was to decide what parts of this case could move forward.

It was tense at times in the courtroom as Fourth District Judge Richard Greenwood repeatedly interrupted the plaintiff’s lawyer Robert Huntley. And Huntley appeared to struggle to answer the judge’s questions. Greenwood said he went into the hearing with a good idea how he’d rule, and he didn't hear anything to change his mind.

Russel Joki, a former school superintendent, filed this case when he had to pay fees to register his grandchildren for school.
Russel Joki, a former school superintendent, filed this case when he had to pay fees to register his grandchildren for school.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The judge let the state off the hook saying school districts made the choice to charge class fees. Huntley argued the state oversees and funds districts. So if districts feel the need to resort to fees, Huntley says, the state is partly responsible.

“The court disagreed with that argument and so be it,” Huntley says. “But it has nothing to do with the central core of our case to begin with. Our first complaint was simply that the schools must stop levying unconstitutional fees.”

The suit also seeks reimbursement for parents and students who have paid fees. If the suit is eventually successful districts would be on their own to pay those. But only about a third of the state's districts are involved. Plaintiffs wanted all the districts but they were unable to deliver enough subpoenas.

This hearing also explored a broader charge in the suit that the state’s system of funding schools is unconstitutional.

The judge dismissed that part of the case saying state law prevented him from ruling on the matter. Plaintiffs can appeal that to the state Supreme Court. But Huntley doesn’t know yet if they will.