Education activists sue state over public funding

Students rally in Long Beach in support of a lawsuit to improve funding for public schools.
Students rally in Long Beach in support of a lawsuit to improve funding for public schools. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Lawyers and education activists who successfully sued to increase education funding in California a decade ago filed a lawsuit today alleging the state is not living up to the constitutional guarantee of providing children an adequate public education.

The Bay Area-based Public Advocates and members of the Campaign for Quality Education filed the suit in Alameda County citing $17 billion in cuts to public schools and colleges in the last two years. That's led the state to rank near the bottom nationwide, the suit alleges, in per-pupil funding which has compromised the state's responsibility to provide children an equal opportunity to attain a
meaningful education.

"Just as we cringe at the sight of millions of gallons of oil gushing from a well at the bottom of the sea, we should recoil at the sight of millions of lives constrained to a substandard learning condition and the steady drain of lost opportunities," said John Affeldt, attorney with Public Advocates.

The lawsuit claims the governor and the state have failed in their constitutional duty to maintain an educational finance system that provides adequate education and puts schools first in line for public funds.

"We file 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," Affeldt said.

There's vigorous debate among education researchers as to whether increases in education funding guarantees improved education. The intent of the lawsuit is to have the courts compel lawmakers to improve the way the state finances schools. There's wide agreement that the state's current method needs a vast overhaul. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is challenging a similar lawsuit filed earlier this year.

Activists part of the coalition that filed the suit staged a rally outside the Long Beach Superior Court. Jeremy Lahoud, the executive director of Californians For Justice said his and other groups are done trying to pressure Sacramento.

"We’ve met with legislators, we’ve supported school finance reform legislation, and we’ve taken thousands of students and parents to Sacramento to no avail. We can’t wait any longer, we’re losing a whole generation of students so we need to fix the school funding system," Lahoud said.

Maria Soto took part in the rally. She began working for Californians For Justice out of a desire to improve education for those younger than her. "I have younger siblings, and I also have a son so it’s very important to me that that this school system is fixed," Soto said. She graduated from Renaissance of the Arts in Long Beach this year.

Public Advocates was one of several groups that settled a lawsuit six years ago against the state to fix classrooms, provide more experienced teachers, and newer textbooks in poor neighborhoods.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles earlier this year to stop teacher layoffs at a handful of low-performing campuses in the Watts area. A judge issued a preliminary order to stop teacher layoffs at those schools.

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