CA lawsuit seeks to overhaul school finance system

By Terence Chea
Associated Press Writer / May 20, 2010

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

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.

"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. The budget crisis has led to teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and cuts to electives, summer school and student services.

"Teachers have less and less time because they are teaching more and more students," said plaintiff Nigel Robinson, an eighth grader in Rancho Cordova. "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."

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