OAKLAND (CN) – Citing a raft of alarming statistics, an alliance of families and nonprofits claims California violates its own constitution by refusing to adequately fund public schools. The complaint in Alameda County Court claims the state particularly neglects economically disadvantaged students and minorities, who consistently fall behind their white peers in math and English.
Lead plaintiff the Campaign for Quality Education is joined by three other nonprofits and 18 student-plaintiffs. They attribute the shortcomings in California’s public education to insufficient funding.
California ranked 47th among the state in per-pupil funding for 2005-06, “spending over $2,000 less per pupil than states such as Louisiana and Arkansas, and over $5,000 less per pupil than states such as New York and New Jersey,” according to the complaint.
It adds: “In the last two years, the state has cut $17 billion from K-14 education, pushing current per-pupil expenditure levels down further to among the very lowest, if not the lowest, in the nation.”
The 56-page complaint cites the California Budget Project’s report: “Race to the Bottom? California’s Support for Schools Lags the Nation.” (http://www.cbp.org/pdfs/2010/1006_SFF_how_does_ca_compare.pdf)
As a result of the budget cuts, “districts across the state are undertaking a variety of cost-saving measures that are further undermining students’ access to fundamental educational opportunities,” the complaint states. These include reducing the school year by 1 week; increasing class sizes so that even K-3 classes have more than 30 students; laying off more than 16,000 teachers, plus counselors, aides and support staff; and killing music and art class, and after-school, summer school and intervention programs.
“California now ranks at the very bottom in the nation in staffing ratios: ranking next to last with respect to total school staff; 49th out of 51 in teachers, principals and assistant principals; and last in guidance counselors and librarians,” the complaint states.
The state’s failure to fund its schools has led to devastating dropout rates and low proficiency in such core subjects as English, math, history and science, the groups claim.
“Of the 549,486 students who began high school in 2004-05, nearly one-third (173,093 students) failed to graduate from high school four years later,” the complaint states. “And just one in four of those students graduated having successfully completed the course requirements needed to even apply for admission to California’s four-year public universities.”
(California’s public schools were among the most admired in the nation until voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978. The proposition limited the state’s ability to collect property taxes – traditionally the major source of school funding – despite the rapid increase of property values. Music and art programs were the first to go.)
The funding cuts have affected plaintiff students Yesenia Ochoa and Jacqueline Reyes, who attend San Francisco’s John O’Connell Technical High School, which is among the 5-percent lowest-achieving schools in the state. Only 20 percent of its students are proficient in English and 5 percent are proficient in math.
Lead plaintiff the Campaign for Quality Education asks that the court find the school system in violation of the California Constitution and that the state be required to address class size, course offerings and teacher quality.
The plaintiffs represented by John Affeldt with Public Advocates.