No Minimum for School Funding, CA Court Rules

     (CN) — California’s educational funding method does not violate the Golden State’s Constitution, a state appeals court ruled, in a loss for families and nonprofits claiming current funding is not enough.
     The Campaign for Quality Education (CQE), Maya Robles-Wong and other plaintiffs — including guardians for minor students attending public schools — sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the California Legislature violated its duty to “keep up and support” the “system of common schools.”
     An Alameda County judge dismissed their complaints, and the First District California Court of Appeals affirmed the decision Wednesday, characterizing the plaintiffs’ claims as “general in nature.”
     “We find no support for finding implied constitutional rights to an education of ‘some quality’ for public school children or a minimum level of expenditures for education, as appellants urge us to read into sections 1 and 5 of article IX” of the state constitution, Justice Martin Jenkins wrote for the majority in a 2-1 decision.
     He added that the constitution does not “include qualitative or funding elements that may be judicially enforced by the courts,” but instead leaves those particulars to be decided by the Legislature.
     CQE and Robles-Wong filed separate lawsuits challenging the funding system, and the California Teachers Association intervened in the latter lawsuit on the plaintiffs’ behalf.
     They argued that the current funding system does not provide all public school students with the opportunity to become proficient enough to meet state-mandated academic standards.
     Their complaint alleged that the state particularly neglects economically disadvantaged students and minorities, who consistently fall behind their white peers in math and English.
     In response, Jenkins cited the words of the Illinois Supreme Court, which similarly ruled that issues of educational funding reform should be addressed to the state legislature.
     “An open and robust public debate is the lifeblood of the political process in our system of representative democracy,” the Illinois high court stated in 1996. “Solutions to problems of educational quality should emerge from a spirited dialogue between the people of the state and their elected representatives.”
     Jenkins added that the California Constitution does not include a minimum level of expenditures on public schools.
     “Appellants are not entitled to the requested relief as they cannot show that the constitutional provisions they invoke restrict legislative discretion in allocating funds for the education of public school children,” the judge wrote.
     Justice Peter Siggins wrote a concurring opinion.
     “State policymakers are working on the problem, and an action that primarily seeks to increase the amount of state funds provided to the schools may not be the prescription for success,” Siggins wrote. “Rather, the balance between more resources and operational and organizational change in the schools may need to be differently struck.”
     But Justice Stuart Pollak dissented from his colleagues, stating that California educates 1.7 million more students than Texas with 16,700 fewer teachers.
     “Other state supreme courts have defined the contours of an acceptable system of public education in their own way, but have similarly concluded that the constitutional requirement of maintaining a system of public schools implies the duty to support the system at some qualitative level,” Pollak wrote.

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