California Punishes School Kids to Balance Budget, Groups Say

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - California makes "absolutely no attempt" to see that its school funding is adequate to meet the goals it claims to have set, nor even to determine how much that would cost, nor to provide school districts with the money they need to do it, 60 students, nine school districts and parents, school boards and administrators say. "Just to reach the national average, California would need an additional 104,000 teachers," according to the constitutional complaint in Alameda County Court.
     "(T)he state violates the constitutional requirement that it shall 'first set apart' the funding necessary to support the education program," the plaintiffs say, citing the California Constitution. "Far from making education its first priority, in recent years the state has cut school funding as a primary means to balance its budget. The state has cut nearly $17 billion from education in recent years and threatens further cuts in 2010-11 - cuts that are implemented without regard to the cost of delivering the education program to students. The 'minimum' guarantee of Proposition 98 has become an artificial cap on education spending whose formulas are routinely manipulated by the state to allow for further reductions or delays in funding, resulting in greater cuts than even the 'minimum' guarantee would allow."
     Despite having "one of the most diverse and challenging student population(s) in the country," California ranked 44th in the nation in per pupil spending in 2008-09 - $2,131 per student below the national average, according to the complaint. "Rhode Island and Vermont each spent double what California spent per pupil."
     The 59-page complaint cites a litany of depressing statistics. It claims that in the 2007-08 school year, even before recent budget cuts, California ranked 49th in the nation in total school staff ratios, 47th in principals and assistant principals, 49th in guidance counselors, 50th in librarians, and 49th in access to computers.
     It claims that California has more than 1.7 million more students than Texas, but 16,700 fewer teachers.
     The plaintiffs ask for a judicial determination that California is denying its children "the fundamental right to a 'system of common schools'." They want the court to assume jurisdiction over the state's school finance system until it determines that the state is meeting its constitutional obligations.
     Plaintiffs' lead attorneys are Abhas Hajela with the Youth and Education Law Project, Mills Legal Clinic, at the Stanford Law School, and William Koski with Bingham McCutcheon.
     Plaintiffs include the Alameda, Alpine, Hemet, Riverside, San Francisco and Santa Ana school districts, the California Congress and Parents Teachers & Students, the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Board Association.