ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today blasted Ann Arbor Public Schools’ decision to charge students $100 per semester to take a seventh hour at Huron or Pioneer high schools. The proposal was passed last night by the board of education during budget negotiations and is expected to save the school $100,000.

“Forcing public school students to carry the burden of plugging budget holes is misguided and unconstitutional,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Ann Arbor Public Schools has essentially created a two-tiered educational system where those who can pay benefit and those who cannot receive a lesser educational experience all together.”

Earlier this week, the ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to school board members explaining that a system of free public elementary and secondary education means “without cost or charge.”

According to the ACLU’s letter: “The seventh hour, even if characterized as ‘optional,’ provides students with an opportunity to obtain credits toward graduation that presumably enrich their overall educational experience, prepare them to succeed in college, and make them competitive applicants for the college of their choice... For a district that has struggled with the achievement gap, putting such a practice into place would only, presumably, impose yet another hurdle whose consequence would be to exacerbate this serious issue.”

Like many school districts in Michigan, AAPS has a budget shortfall – $18 million – that must be made up during the 2013-2014 school year. The Michigan Department of Education requires schools to provide 1098 hours of per-pupil instruction over a minimum of 170 days. At most high schools, this equals a minimum of six hours of instruction a day. Pioneer and Huron, however, both offer an “optional” seventh hour. About half of the students at these schools enroll in a seventh hour course during their high school career.

Under the current system, students most likely to enroll in seventh hour classes are those who take electives, such as music or art, students who take several Advanced Placement courses, students who are enrolled in a vocational education program, and students who need to make up a class. Many of these students need to take a seventh hour class in order to participate in these supplementary programs and still meet graduation requirements. For example, the music department at Pioneer estimates that 43 percent of the students who take music classes take seventh hour classes at some points during the year in order to fulfill their graduation requirements.

“School districts across the state are facing tougher and tougher decisions about how to address financial distress but the best interests of the children must come first,” continued Moss. “If a quality education cannot be delivered in this environment, then it is incumbent on the Governor and legislature to find bold and creative solutions that deal with the underlying problems rather than sacrifice the ability of every child in this state to secure a quality education.”