Landmark $53 Million Deal Reached in California Literacy Challenge

(CN) – Parents and students in California celebrated a historic $53 million civil rights settlement reached with the state Thursday which will funnel tens of millions of dollars to the 75 lowest-performing elementary schools to improve student literacy.

The 2017 lawsuit, Ella T. and Katie T. v State of California, and Thursday’s settlement mark the first time a civil rights action has been successfully brought under a state constitution to protect student’s access to literacy.

Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster filed the lawsuit after a 2012 state report found an urgent need to address the literacy crisis in California schools, which primarily affects low-income students of color.

In 2018, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos declined the state’s request to toss the case, spurring settlement talks.

The parties notified her successor, Judge Rupert Byrdsong, they had reached a settlement which was announced Thursday.

The $53 million in new funding is included in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020 budget and will need to be approved by the Legislature. The list of 75 elementary schools receiving funding will be compiled by the state but wasn’t immediately available Thursday.

Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at Public Counsel, called access to literacy “the longest yet most urgent struggle for social justice in America.”

“The right to read is not just the cornerstone of education – it is the cornerstone of our democracy. Without it, we continue to build a future on the illusion that the haves compete on the same terms with the have-nots. This revolutionary settlement, coming nearly 70 long years after Brown v. Board, does not end that struggle, but it invigorates it with the power of children and their communities who insist on the equal opportunity to tell their stories and remake California in the images of all,” Rosenbaum said in a press conference.

Rosenbaum said “the kids don’t have any more years to lose” and the settlement not only provides the resources needed to improve literacy but requires the resources be used to develop meaningful plans to address literacy.

The settlement provides $50 million in block grants to the 75 lowest performing elementary schools in California to develop three-year action plans to invest in resources to improve student literacy including literacy coaches, teachers’ aides, professional development, culturally responsive curriculum, restorative justice and trauma response.

The settlement also provides an additional $3 million for the creation of a statewide “expert lead on literacy” who will work to strengthen the state’s literacy infrastructure and training and will assist grant recipients.

Grant recipients are also required to prioritize community engagement and perform a root-cause analysis of factors including instructional, school climate and social-emotional factors that lead to low student achievement.

The state will be required to issue guidelines to reduce racially disproportionate discipline, form a Blue Ribbon Commission on exclusionary discipline and hold a public event to discuss alternatives to harmful disciplinary practices.

Plaintiff David Moch, a retired teacher and parent of students who attended La Salle Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, said students who fell behind on literacy became caught in the school-to-prison pipeline.

“The students who get in trouble in schools were also the ones who needed the most literacy support,” Moch said.

Parent Wanda M., a plaintiff representing her son Bernie M., said she felt her son missed out on learning opportunities after being removed from the classroom due to behavior problems and sent to detention without books or assignments.

“When a school’s only response is to remove students from a classroom, how can we expect students to keep up with the curriculum?” Wanda asked.

More information about the settlement agreement can be found at www.literacycalifornia.com.

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