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Educators sue state over funding

Education: Lawsuit seeks alternative means of paying for public education

Posted: May 20, 2010 10:53 p.m.
Updated: May 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Students, school districts and education groups from across California joined Thursday in suing the state of California with the hope of developing a new way to pay for public education.

“The lawsuit is to really open the doors and to get people talking about what is the best way to fund education and to look at the importance of education,” said Valencia resident Suzan Solomon, vice president of education for the California State Parent-Teacher Association.

Solomon worked on the historic lawsuit, which 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.

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, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, expresses simmering frustrations of organizations like the California School Boards Association and the PTA — as well as individual students and parents.

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.

K-12 education and the community college system have been cut by $17 billion over the last two years. Locally, school districts have responded by increasing class sizes, laying off more than 70 teachers and issuing furlough days.

Education in California is largely tax-funded, leaving few options when the economy suffers.

Education accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s general fund spending.

“The current public funding system is outdated and antiquated, and it puts the state out of compliance with its state laws and requirements for public education, as well as the No Child Left Behind act,” Solomon said.

California, which once had one of the nation’s top public-education systems, 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.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, said he recognizes the problems with education funding, but the bigger issue is addressing the faults with California’s state budget system.

“The entire state is struggling, and it’s not just education,” Smyth said.

For instance, he said, the governor’s latest budget proposal calls for the elimination of state welfare reform, which Smyth opposes.

“The budget issues are going well beyond our public education system reform,” he said.

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