The lawsuit alleges the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Compton Unified School District (CUSD) fail to adequately inform parents of children zoned to attend failing schools about their transfer options under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The school districts had until late May to file a response to the allegations, which was pending at press time.
In a May 1 letter to California State Board of Education President Glee Johnson and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, Spellings said, "it is usually best to allow matters such as these to be resolved at the local and state level," but she added the federal government is "mindful of our own compliance responsibilities and remedies." If the districts fail to comply with the law, Spellings could cut off their federal funding.
According to a 2004 report from the Citizen's Commission on Civil Rights--a Washington, DC-based watchdog group--only 1 percent of the more than three million children trapped in failing schools nationwide have taken advantage of their government-mandated option to attend a better school. According to the
"When we requested information from
LAUSD is the district with the largest number of students in failing schools who are eligible to transfer under NCLB--not just in
If the lawsuit is resolved in the complainants' favor,
"I think that the law puts school districts between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they are obligated to provide public school options in their districts--but in most districts, there are no better-performing public schools," Bolick said. "So something has to give. We predict what will give is the limiting of such options to public schools within the districts. We will see inter-district transfer options, the lifting of obstacles to public charter schools, the expansion of options to include private schools, or some combination of those."
The situation has not gone unnoticed at the federal level. The day before they filed the lawsuit, the
Bolick said he was unsure how long the suit might take to resolve, calling it "a really murky process." But it did not appear to be moving fast enough to help Rhonda Mumphrey find a good school for her son by this autumn.
Mumphrey, an insurance agent, has been looking for a better school than the one in her gang-violence-ridden neighborhood since her son was 3. He's 6 now, but Mumphrey hasn't found another public school she likes, her child hasn't been accepted at the private schools she's applied to, and they didn't win the lottery system by which students are selected to attend local charter schools.
"It's not for lack of trying--it just seems like nobody cares," Mumphrey said. "If you call the public schools outside of your area, you're told your child can't go there because you live outside their area. The bottom line is my child doesn't have a school, and it's May and I'd feel better if he had a better option. I don't feel that just because I live in this neighborhood that he has to go to this school. It just seems like the voucher system would be the way to go."
Neither the LAUSD nor the CUSD returned calls seeking comment.