When Jenny Crossland, a mother of an incoming kindergartner, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Fort Worth Independent School District (Fort Worth ISD) asking for book lists between kindergarten and 12th grade, she was not expecting to be charged the equivalent of round-trip flights across the world.
As such, when Crossland was given a $1,267.50 bill for the book lists, she was more than a little shocked.
“To tell a parent it costs $1200 to get the reading list is absurd,” Crossland told Chalkboard Review staff in a private communication. “It paints a picture of chaos, bad faith, and a lack of trust in our public school system.”
Crossland’s case mirrors a similar occurrence last month. Another Fort Worth ISD mother asked the district for similar information, and was given the exact same answer — fork over $1,267.50 or no book lists were being distributed.
However, the latter mom happens to be an attorney for the Goldwater Institute, and she filed a formal complaint against the district. Now, Goldwater is representing both moms against Fort Worth ISD. .
“Texas law requires that any public records fees be reasonable and that, for records under 50 pages, fees be limited to photocopying charges. Further, governmental bodies in the state must abide by the attorney general’s cost rules when determining how much they will charge to produce public records,” said the Goldwater Institute’s Kamron Kompani said in a press release.
“These rules explicitly state that the district can charge for the cost of labor “[o]nly if (1) there are more than 50 pages of copies, or (2) the information is kept in two or more separate buildings or in remote storage.” In this case, it is highly unlikely that a simple request for book lists qualifies for either one of these exceptions,” Kompani continued, adding that Goldwater is supporting academic transparency initiatives around the country so that incidents like these no longer occur.
The district responded by telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that “neither requester responded to the district regarding the cost estimate” which was “a good faith estimate on what it would cost to fulfill the request as submitted.”
Even if the Goldwater Institute’s efforts are successful, Crossland’s faith in the school district has been shattered. “Parents want to know what their kids are learning because they want to be proud of their kids,” she told Chalkboard Review staff. “I hope more parents start asking questions, our kids need and deserve it.”
For this reason, as well as others (the school Crossland intended to enter her child into was given a “D” rating by the Texas Education Agency), Crossland hopes to find a better educational fit for her family.