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2010 June 14 - 12:00 am

Calif. Lawsuit Seeks To Overhaul School Funding System

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A coalition of students, school districts and education groups sued the state of California, seeking to force the governor and Legislature to develop a new system to fund its cash-strapped public schools and community colleges.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the current school finance system unconstitutional because the state doesn’t provide enough money to cover its educational mandates and programs.

The complaint was filed in Alameda County Superior Court by more than 60 students, nine school districts and groups representing school boards, administrators and parent-teacher associations.

“The real problem is the state is not providing the support my school needs to teach me everything I need,” said Maya Robles-Wong, an 11th grade student in Alameda who is one of the plaintiffs.

California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will oppose the lawsuit and believes the state will prevail.

“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,” she said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges the current school finance system is “Unsound, unstable and insufficient,” leads to unequal learning opportunities and doesn’t provide the resources needed for students to meet the state’s academic standards, which are among the most rigorous in the country.

California, which once had one of the nation’s top public education system, now ranks near the bottom nationally in academic achievement, teacher-student ratios and per-pupil spending, when adjusted for regional cost differences, according to the plaintiffs.

Currently, the state ranks 47th among all states in its per-pupil spending on education, spending $2,856 less per pupil than the national average.

“We must have a system that allows schools to deliver a high-quality education to all children in good times and in tough times,” said Jo Loss, president of the California State PTA.

The plaintiffs said the state has cut $17 billion from K-12 schools and community colleges over the past two years.

“Teachers have less and less time because they are teaching more and more students,” said plaintiff Nigel Robinson, an eighth grader. “I’d like to get into a great college, but I know that other kids in other parts of the country have more opportunities than I do.”

Said CSBA President Frank Pugh: “Filing this lawsuit was a last resort. Education funding has been in a deteriorating spiral in California for decades. A failure to act now threatens the future of California’s students and the future of our state. The governor and lawmakers have known for some time that the current school finance system is harming students and they’ve done nothing to remedy the crisis. The $17 billion in cuts to education have only made a dire situation even worse.”

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