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Lawsuit aims to overhaul school funding system, provide schools with more dollars [Updated]

Education funding must be increased by billions of dollars to meet legal requirements under the California Constitution, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The litigation, filed by the California School Boards Assn., nine school districts and students and parents,  arrives as school districts are struggling from successive years of steep budget cuts brought on by a sputtering economy and lawmakers’ reluctance to raise taxes.

But the legal action filed in Alameda County Superior Court isn’t merely about restoring dollars. Instead it seeks a rethinking on the funding levels needed to equitably and successfully educate the state’s children.

“This lawsuit is not about adequacy but about getting the courts to declare the current school finance system unconstitutional,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards group. “There is no rational connection between the system we have and the support that it’s given.”

But there is a direct link between school funding and the state budget. Dollars for schools are currently protected through voter-approved minimum guarantees. But even that system allows funding to shrink during hard times.

And some officials, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, insist it’s necessary and fair for education to absorb its share of cutbacks.The governor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday morning, saying it had not yet been reviewed.

[Updated at 1 p.m.:Schwarzenegger's education secretary Bonnie Reiss issued the following statement in response: "The governor will oppose this lawsuit and believes the state will prevail. The funding of public education in California has long been and continues to be a top priority of California, even in bad economic and budget times. We will continue to fight to keep education a budget priority as well as fight for the other reforms essential to ensuring a great education for all our students regardless of where they live or their race or economic background."

Separately, the California Teachers Assn., the state's largest teachers union, hailed the fling of the lawsuit.]

The suit was filed against the governor and the state of California. Other parties involved are 49 students, parents, the Assn. of California School Administrators and school districts including San Francisco, Riverside and Santa Ana.

Similar suits brought in other states have yielded new revenues for schools. But there’s on ongoing debate about how directly more money translates to improved schools.

Conservatives and libertarians frequently point to the disappointing results of a court-ordered infusion of dollars poured into the schools of Kansas City, Mo.

Plotkin is unswayed by that cautionary tale.

“Just once before I die I would like for us to improve our schools by pouring enough money into our system to bring us back to where we used to be with smaller class sizes, counselors, school nurses and school librarians,” he said. “Just once let’s try it with more money instead of by laying off 40,000 teachers.”

The lawsuit tabulates $17 billion in cuts in recent years to a system that it asserts was already grossly underfunded.

The complaint doesn’t specify exactly how much money would be needed. Nor does it argue for mandatory tax increases, but it does assert that, under the Constitution, schools get a primary claim on dollars that are there, Plotkin said.

He acknowledged that higher taxes could be part of the outcome were state officials to fully fund schools while properly maintaining other services.

Some of California’s most respected researchers released a collection of reports in 2007 that called for a massive increase in funding concurrent with sweeping reforms.

The Quality Education Investment Act, part of an earlier lawsuit settlement, was supposed to supply evidence once and for all that money to create smaller classes and provide more counselors and other services at selected schools would make a difference in California. But the ongoing budget crisis has undermined that experiment by diluting the effect of the extra dollars.

As it stands, the results have been mixed. Some advocates point to success stories, but other schools still struggle. L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines last year ordered the complete restructuring of Fremont High, which has received the added dollars.

-- Howard Blume

Comments () | Archives (5)

I used to be a big supporter of the PTA, thinking (inaccurately) that the money raised goes toward funding enrichment programs and materials. NOT the case, they spend most of it on LOBBYISTS! Now they are spending it on lawsuits, which in turn must be defended by the taxpayers.

This is why you should not join your local PTA!! When your children or grandchildren come home with those little envelopes at the beginning of the year JUST SAY NO! Instead, give your money or supplies directly to the school.

Don't forget the growing population of students, wherein many cases need special attention to keep up with their peers. Los Angeles is in a funk, and its elected officials have no clues on how to fix it. I feel sorry for my Los Angeles neighbors, and if Arizona cuts off the 25% of electricity to them for the misguided judgment of mayor V. and his gang on the hill. It will be worse off economically.

As a parent of two of those children in the suit I am upset to see that you think think the schools, PTA, Union or others are paying for this.. This case was taken probono.. Not one cent is being put out by the platiffs. As a member of our local school PTA I have to say the money does go to the school. Fund raisers, field trips, ect are paid by the PTA.. By law PTA has to use monies earned for school activities and other school related things. When the state puts X amount of dollars for "Futhering Reading Education", but then states the monies CAN NOT be used to buy books or pay for library staff or items. You tell me what are they to use the monies for.. Books they have in school now are the same books I used when I was in school 13-20+ years ago.. Nothing in those history books about the last 3 decades.. Really look at what the lawsuit is about. It more about being able to use the monies that are there without all the restriction, and not so moch about getting more more from the state. When the monies that give can't be used do to the very restrictive guidelines the state that the money back. Please learn what this suit is really about before you pass judgement..

The governor is a duplicitous, dimwitted, and dangerous power monger that has no clue and no interest in the history of public education in California, and this lawsuit is a reflection of his bungling. He’s more interested in being an aging political rock star than he is in the nuts and bolts of daily governance, which should always include a deep respect and comprehension of our state’s educational history, which is something he and wife – both imports - clearly do not embrace. What did we expect when we elected someone like this – someone who has ill-advisedly demonstrated this deep and necessary gubernatorial deference toward our once-gleaming trophy case of world class public schools spanning kindergarten through university – by systematically disregarding and eventually destroying it? Make no mistake, this governor has overseen the destruction of this system because he never had the capability to understand the value of this treasure. His slobbering stampede to play politician and de-regulate California has left public education blood on his hands, and although he may blame others for the demolition of our world-renown trophies, he and his minions alone are responsible for this debacle. How dare Arnold Schwarzenegger steal 17 BILLION DOLLARS in just two years from our public schools and then squeal like a stuck pig when professional educators – those who built the trophies with grit, vision, and intellect – have the obvious and long-overdue gumption to sue his administration. Oh, and blaming teachers by attacking state seniority rules in your own recently-filed, transparent and mildly criminal lawsuit against them, Mr. Schwarzenegger, is probably not going to work in your favor either. Blaming the same teachers who built our school trophies – those hard working public school foot soldiers who care for our most precious resource and have been forced to undergo a severe Sacramento-orchestrated financial starvation campaign under your watch for the past two years (17 BILLION DOLLARS and counting) – as the cause of the problem is akin to biting the hand that feeds you. ‘Godspeed’ to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit mentioned here, and ‘shame on you’ to the lame duck governor of California.

Parent of 2 children in the suit: GREAT JOB! I applaud you! I wish more parents would be pro-active like you!
jpcabrera2 at aol.com


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