Themes in the news By UCLA IDEA Staff
05-28-2010 -- Maya Robles-Wong, along with about 60 other students, is suing the state of California for failing to meet its constitutional requirement to adequately and equitably fund public schools (San Francisco Chronicle, Education Week, New York Times blog). Other plaintiffs in Robles-Wong v. California, which was filed last Thursday in Alameda Superior Court, include nine school districts, the state PTA, and associations for school boards and administrators.
Ten years ago, when Maya was a first-grader, another group of student-plaintiffs sued to gain necessary and equitable access to materials, facilities and qualified teachers. That suit, Williams v. California, was settled in 2005, allocating $138 million in extra funding for the lowest-performing schools. However, the adequacy and equity issues are far from resolved, prompting new lawsuits.
In 2005, Gov. Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders requested a set of independent studies on California’s system for funding public education. The “Getting Down to Facts” studies released in March 2007 found that the state’s education finance system was unnecessarily complex and not aligned to support performance standards. Several of the studies pointed to the need for California to dramatically increase funding in order to meet its educational goals.
The studies did not prompt immediate action from state leaders. And, the recession and budget crisis that began in 2008 has pushed further down the road any talk about education funding reform. Even long-term planning has been forestalled. Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 8, which would have created a bipartisan working group to explore a new education funding structure (Educated Guess).
The Robles-Wong suit, and another to be filed soon by Public Advocates, is reigniting the conversation on the misalignment of California’s education funding system. The state expects its students to meet some of the highest academic standards in the nation while simultaneously attending schools that are among the most poorly funded. “They haven’t provided us with what we need to succeed,” said Nigel Robinson, a Sacramento-area middle school student (KPCC).
Filed shortly after the governor released his revised budget, the lawsuit is not seeking a specified amount of money (Dan Walters/Sacramento Bee). It asks for an overhaul of the system of school funding barriers that keeps California near the bottom of all states in its support for schools (Editorial/Sacramento Bee). According to the complaint, with adjustments made for cost-of-living, last year California was $2,856 below the national average in per-pupil spending, ranking 47th among all states. Among other provisions, the suit seeks changes in Proposition 98, a voter-approved initiative that provides a formula for minimum education spending.
State officials argue that education is a priority since it comprises more than 40 percent of the state’s budget, even in tough economic times when officials need to close a $19 billion budget gap this year (San Jose Mercury News). But the lawsuit claims that California has been underfunding its schools long before the current budget crisis (New York Times blog), and the irrational and broken funding system will continue to jeopardize students regardless of the state’s economic circumstances.
The lawsuit is an opportunity for stakeholders across the state, including students, to get involved in a public discussion about education—what is wanted, what is needed, and what people are willing to invest so that schools can receive support reliably and fairly.
Frank Pugh, president of California School Boards Association and a plaintiff in the suit, called the current system unreasonable and unfair: “Our goal is to…start the conversation about what is a proper, appropriate, dependable funding source for education, one that links expectations with resources." (San Francisco Chronicle)