UPDATED: ALAMEDA UNIFIED SUES STATE FOR MORE FUNDING
Updated at 1:37 p.m. Thursday, May 20
Alameda Unified and a group of other school districts, parents, students and educational associations are asking a state court to declare California’s system of school funding unconstitutional and to force the state to set up a new one that better funds schools.
“Today, we are here to announce a historic lawsuit filed against the State of California,” Frank Pugh, president of the California School Boards Association, told reporters at a press conference Thursday morning in Sacramento. “We ask the court to help us put an end to our broken finance system by declaring it unconstitutional, and requiring state lawmakers to uphold their constitutional duty to design and implement a school finance system that provides students the opportunity to become informed citizens and productive members of society.”
Pugh and others told reporters that legislators and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have acknowledged that they are not properly funding the education program the state requires California’s schools to teach, but they have failed to fix the problem. And they said California’s low academic achievement is the result.
And attorneys representing the coalition said the state Constitution requires lawmakers to set aside money for education before attending to other needs.
They said the suit, which has been three years in the making, was filed as a last resort in the face of that inaction. Plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed Thursday morning in Alameda County Superior Court, include Alameda Unified and two Alameda students, Maya Robles-Wong and Milena Robles-Wong.
“Since I started going to school at Alameda High as a freshman, I know that summer programs have been cut. I know that teachers have been laid off. And I know that programs that are supposed to help my classmates and me go to college have been cut,” Maya Robles-Wong, 16, was quoted as saying in a press announcement. “I’m not an expert in education finance, but I know enough to say that it’s not because my teachers and our schools aren’t trying to give us what we need. I know that the real problem is that the State is not providing the support my school needs to teach me everything I need.”
Other AUSD students current and future who are named in the suit are Reina Bonta and Iliana Bonta, the daughters of Hospital Board member and Alameda City Council candidate Rob Bonta; Harrison and Phoebe Brand, children of Peter Brand and InAlameda blogger Susan Davis; and Ruby and Eli Meyer Siltanen, children of Gwen Meyer and Rob Siltanen, who is also the district’s director of educational options.
“This is a proud and exciting step for Alameda and also a step that many Alamedans have been requesting for a long time,” Alameda Unified Superintendent Kirsten Vital said. Still, she stressed that the suit will take years to conclude and that the district still needs to address funding shortfalls for the coming year independent of that.
Proponents of the Measure E parcel tax praised the district’s participation in the suit, which comes at no cost to the district. But they stressed that the suit won’t solve the district’s current money problems.
“Children entering kindergarten this year will be close to graduating from high school before this is over,” APLUS Chair Carla Greathouse said in a statement.
The suit comes as Alameda Unified faces a $7 million budget deficit, and district officials anticipate widening gaps in the years to come. The school board okayed a $7 million package of cuts for the 2010-2011 school year, but they are hoping voters will approve Measure E, a replacement parcel tax that could bring the district $14 million a year. Ballots are set to go out next Tuesday.
Some critics of the proposed tax have complained that district leaders have not done enough to earn a fairer share of funding from the state. State funding accounts for more than three-quarters of Alameda Unified’s budget.
The state gives Alameda $4,946 per student for basic educational services. That’s down from $5,777 in 2007-2008. The state average of $7,571 makes California 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending. The national average is $9,963.
The “revenue limit” funding formula was first set in place in the wake of a 1971 state Supreme Court decision intended to equalize school funding. After Proposition 13 passed in 1978, the state took over setting that limit, according to a report on school funding released by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California in March. The state uses 19 separate criteria to calculate the per-student dollar amount, it says.
The state uses local property taxes to pay some of the money and, since the passage of Proposition 13, which cut property tax revenues by 60 percent, Sacramento has backfilled the rest. But in the face of an ongoing fiscal crisis, the state has cut funding for education by $17 billion over the last two years alone despite voter-approved funding guarantees.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneger’s education secretary, Bonnie Reiss, said the state will fight the suit.
“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. We will continue to fight to keep education a budget priority as well as fight for the other reforms essential to ensuring a great education for all our students regardless of where they live or their race or economic background,” Reiss said in a statement.
The case is Robles-Wong, et. al. vs. the State of California.
In other legal news, parents who sued the district to win the right to opt out of its anti-gay bullying curriculum, dubbed Lesson 9, have dropped their suit. In a press release issued Thursday, an attorney for the parents said the district’s planned elimination of the elementary school lessons a win.
The school district worked with teachers and community members to replace the lesson with a series of books intended to address bullying based on a variety of factors, including race, religion and sexual orientation. When the district’s new anti-violence curriculum and the books are in place, Lesson 9 will no longer be taught.
Here’s a copy of the funding lawsuit, which we’ll talk about a little more tomorrow.