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Submitted by on 1, July 13, 2010 – 4:50 am2 Comments

A group of community organizations, parents and students has filed a second lawsuit in state court seeking to have California’s school funding system declared unconstitutional.

The suit makes some of the same legal claims as another suit filed May 20 by school advocacy groups, school districts, parents and students. The former suit’s plaintiffs include the Alameda Unified School District and several local students and their parents; the latter, suit, filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, includes a local parent and four Alameda Unified students among its plaintiffs. The state is set to reply to that suit on July 20.

“Since California was founded, our constitution has recognized public education as the state’s highest and most necessary duty. We’re filing this suit to force the state to live up to its founding promise to invest in our most valuable asset – the human potential of Californians,” John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the suit.

Plaintiffs in the suit said they are going to court now because legislative efforts have failed and because the state’s dwindling support for schools is reducing the quality of education school districts can provide.

“For almost a decade, student and parent groups have tried to fix this broken school finance system by meeting with legislators and supporting school finance reform legislation,” Jeremy Lahoud, executive director of plaintiff Californians for Justice, was quoted as saying in a press release. “Unfortunately, our efforts have been ignored, vetoed, or left stuck in the short-sighted paralysis that has overtaken Sacramento. We can’t wait any longer. We’re losing a whole generation.”

In addition to asking the state for a new funding system that better addresses the needs of California’s students – one that better aligns funding with the cost of meeting the state’s own educational expectations – the suit also seeks a data system that will better ensure the state’s education budget is spent well and also seeks better preschool availability.

Local plaintiffs include Audrey Chiang and her two children, Meilin and Tao Beloney, who are students at Edison Elementary School; and Jennifer Mai Kwok and Wing Sean Kwok, who attend Edison and Lincoln Middle School, respectively.

“As parents, we dream of college for our children. They need a quality education in order to get there. Yet, even here at Edison, we are increasingly feeling the strain of inadequate funding,” Chiang was quoted as saying in a plaintiff’s statement released Monday.

Chiang, who was asked to be involved in the suit a few weeks ago and who said she and her family are huge proponents of public schools, said that she appreciates Edison’s strong teachers and parent community. And she said her children are thriving because parents tirelessly fundraise to make sure students aren’t denied learning materials, science and arts programs. But she said she that while she knows her situation is better than some friends who live in neighboring communities face, she still fears future cuts.

“We worry about our teachers being pink-slipped, our class sizes growing, and our programs being cut. With the recent failure of Measure E, a local tax that would have provided funding for Alameda schools, we are facing the real possibility that Edison may close,” Chiang said.

Attorneys handling the suit said that while they are united with the plaintiffs in the earlier suit, Robles-Wong vs. the State of California, they chose to press their own case separately to ensure low-income parents and students would have their voices heard.

“Our lawsuit and Robles-Wong have similar goals and present similar legal theories, and we are united in our commitment to secure a new funding system,” Rohit Singla of Munger, Tolles & Olsen, one of the attorneys handing the case, was quoted as saying in a release. “Our clients filed their own suit because it allows grassroots community members and their constituents — primarily low-income parents and students — an independent voice so that they will have a direct say in their and their children’s future.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor is ready to work with plaintiffs in the case to fix schools. His education secretary, Bonnie Reiss, had vowed to fight the original suit.

“The governor is ready to work with the plaintiffs in this case, but as multiple studies have pointed out, funding alone will not solve the fundamental problems facing our schools. Throwing more money into our broken education system will not benefit students unless it is accompanied by extensive and systemic reforms,” spokeswoman Andrea McCarthy said in a statement e-mailed to The Island. “The governor stands ready to work cooperatively with any group that shares his commitment to ensuring that California students receive a quality education.”

The case is Campaign for Quality Education et. al. vs. the State of California. More information on the case is available online. And more about the Robles-Wong case is here.


  • Steve B says:

    Folks this ACORN filing the suit.

  • Incredulous says:

    @ Steve B:

    It’s far from ACORN filing a lawsuit or two. In the first lawsuit, the plaintiffs lawyers are very mainstream Republicrats Munger, Tolles & Olsen. See: http://www.mto.com

    That firm occasionally represents public interest plaintiffs in lawsuits the firm thinks are meritorious.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, a similarly named law firm English Munger & Rice were responsible for overturning California’s method of financing new school construction, which favored competent suburban school systems (over incompetent urban schools systems like L.A. Unified) in a “race” to jump through a series of hurdles to obtain a limited amount of state school construction bond money.

    California has a long history of state courts seizing control of failing school financing systems, with Superior Court judges reforming them when the Legislature fails. Steve B should try looking up the history of Serrano v. Priest.

    I have no idea what these current plaintiffs lawyers believe they are going to accomplish, in suing the state, but they are definitely not minor league players.

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