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Coalition files lawsuit against State of California over public education finances

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

A coalition of students, parents, school boards, and California educational organizations has filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to declare the current school financing system unconstitutional, and to direct the California governor and legislature to create a system that is "sound, stable and sufficient." 

Robles-Wong, et al. v. State of California was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of all state public schools and students. Named after Alameda High School junior Maya Robles-Wong, the plaintiffs include the California School Board Association, the California School Administrators, the California State PTA, nine school districts and sixty students and parents.

After $17 billion in recent cuts to the state’s education budget and years of questionable funding practices by the state that even put the state’s stimulus dollars at risk, the coalition felt it had no other choice but to follow states like New York seeking not money, but what is being cited as a rational system of state funding. 

According to press reports, California School Boards Association President Frank Pugh, a plaintiff in the case, stated that “California’s broken school finance system has denied students the education that they deserve for decades.  This lawsuit is a last resort. We cannot sit around idly and wait for the state to act when generation after generation of students are suffering the consequences.”

The state Constitution gives education financing a unique priority by requiring that "from all state revenues there shall first be set apart the monies to be applied by the State for support of the public school system.” The lawsuit argues that recent budget cuts have violated this requirement.

An education system that was once the envy the nation now ranks near the bottom nationally in spending per pupil, student-teacher ratio and academic achievement, and less than seven in 10 students graduate from high school.  Specifically:

    •    California spends $2,131 less per pupil than the national average, ranking 44th in the country.  

   •    California spends less per pupil than each of the largest 10 states in the nation -- almost $6,000 less per pupil than New York.

    •    California ranks 49th among all states in student-teacher ratios; 46th in district officials and administrators; 49th in guidance counselors and 50th in librarians.

    •    Only half of all California students are proficient in English language and only 46% are proficient in math

Since Proposition 13 three decades ago, which transferred nearly all school financing from the local level to state officials, funding has become increasingly inadequate and a main driver of the state’s current crisis. In an effort to rectify the massive loss in dollars for public education, Californians passed Proposition 98, which ensured that school funding was a top priority for the state. Unfortunately, this move has done little to help the situation.

The governor’s office has vowed to fight the lawsuit. A press release issued by Governor Schwarzenegger's office stated that "The governor will oppose this lawsuit and believes the state will prevail. The funding of public education in California has long been and continues to be a top priority of California, even in bad economic and budget times."

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