ALAMEDA SCHOOL FUNDING SUIT: Plaintiffs say state over-requires, underfunds
As we reported Thursday, the Alameda Unified School District and eight local public school students (and students-to-be) were part of a large group of folks suing the State of California because they believe the state’s system for funding schools is unconstitutional and needs to be remade.
The plaintiffs make their case in a 59-page complaint filed Thursday morning in Alameda County Superior Court. As promised, here’s a little more detail on what it says.
The right to a public education and the requirement to set aside public funds to finance that education are guaranteed by the state constitution, the plaintiffs say. And they say the state has recognized this right by putting an educational plan and standards into place.
In 1995, the state Legislature directed uniform content standards in core subjects for all of California’s schools. The state also set up testing and assessment to ensure students were learning what they were supposed to learn – and mandated interventions for schools that weren’t performing well on those tests.
But state leaders have chronically underfunded schools or offered funding in ways that block schools’ ability to provide the state’s education program to students, they say. And even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence agreed that the state’s funding system was flawed. They found that its deepest impacts were to underprivileged kids.
The state has also reduced the amount of money it grants for general education expenses and shifted spending to be used only for specific programs, they said: In 1980, state and federal spending on these “categorical” programs constituted 13 percent of state education funding. It has since grown to be a third of that funding, with general education dollars reduced accordingly.
Parents sued the state in 1968 in an effort to equalize school funding, and the state Supreme Court agreed in 1971 that funding needed to be leveled. But the combination of that court decision and Proposition 13 left school funding stagnant, the plaintiffs say – and codified the inequities the 1968 suit was supposed to fix.
In 1988, California’s voters passed Proposition 98, which was intended to preserve school funding. But California’s per-pupil spending, as compared to other states continued its slide, they say. Even with Proposition 98 – which is tied to funds that aren’t a stable source of income – the state has reduced school funding by $17 billion over the last two years, they say.
In the meantime, programs like computer labs, sports, music and art have evaporated, they say.
The lack of funding makes California one of the worst states in the nation in terms of staffing ratios, they say. In the 2007-08 school year, California’s classrooms had 20.8 students per teacher, compared to a national average of 15.5 students per teacher. Just to reach the national average, California would have to hire another 104,000 teachers.
The result, they say, is poor performance on almost every national standard. California is tied for 47th in the nation for fourth grade reading proficiency and 46th in eighth grade math. Only half the state’s students are considered proficient in English Language Arts, and fewer are proficient in math. And the numbers are worse for California’s economically disadvantaged students, who make up more than half the state’s student population.
They say they want state leaders to design a new funding system that pays for the services they are required to provide. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s education secretary, meanwhile, has vowed to fight the suit.
On a side note, the folks at Children Now, an Oakland-based children’s advocacy group run by former state legislator Ted Lempert and current Alameda County Board of Supervisors candidate Wilma Chan, are asking folks to tell state legislators not to cut spending for education. You can participate in their campaign by clicking here.