Lawsuit argues CA education spending is constitutionally insufficient

School classroomWhen it comes to lawsuits arguing that California’s education system is unfair and unconstitutional, the Vergara v. California case has gotten the most attention. A court hearing Thursday in Los Angeles began the state government’s appeal of Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu’s 2014 ruling that six teacher-protection laws had the unconstitutional effect of funneling the worst teachers to poor, mostly minority schools. A ruling is expected by late May.

But another lawsuit with the potential to upend the California education status quo is also before a state appellate court. Originally filed in 2010 by a coalition including the California Teachers Association, the California School Board Association, the state PTA, the San Francisco school district and other parties, Robles-Wong v. State of California argues that financing for state public schools is so insufficient that it fails the state Constitution’s promise to provide an adequate education. In 2011, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick dismissed the suit, saying the Constitution said nothing about guaranteeing a level of funding.

But at a recent hearing in San Francisco, judges seemed surprisingly open to the lawsuit. The Chronicle has some details:

During the 75-minute hearing, the three-justice panel seemed uncertain about how to define a legal standard that wouldn’t interfere with the Legislature’s authority to set funding levels for schools and other state programs. But when the state’s lawyer argued that no such standard exists and that courts should leave school financing to lawmakers, the justices responded sharply. …


“There must be a judicially manageable standard” to decide whether California is violating its students’ rights, Justice Martin Jenkins said. He suggested that the court could read “some broad policy standards” into the state Constitution and leave the details of any remedies to the experts. …


“The schools are inadequate. California’s at the bottom of the list,” said Justice Stuart Pollak, who noted that courts in other states have required wholesale changes in school financing. “Can’t we recognize that there is a basic, fundamental problem with our schools?”

Court-ordered school funding boost stalled in Washington

Pollak was likely referring to the state of Washington. There, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that education funding was inadequate and ordered state lawmakers to substantially increase funding. In 2014, the plaintiffs who brought the original suit returned to the court, saying the 2011 ruling had been ignored.

The Washington Supreme Court agreed, and in July 2015, began imposing a $100,000 a day fine on the state. But with anti-tax Republicans controlling the state Senate, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democrats who control the state Assembly have been unable to agree on a plan to honor the court edict.

A similar ruling in California could lead to similar problems in Sacramento. While Democrats have made school funding their top priority, it is unclear if Gov. Jerry Brown would accept the idea that the largest item in the state budget could be decided by state’s court system.

The San Francisco appellate court’s ruling is due by late April.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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