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January 23, 2013

In the 1970's, the California Supreme Court declared education a fundamental right under the state constitution. Now, new California plaintiffs ask the state courts to declare the current school funding scheme unconstitutional.

On January 16, 2013, a number of amici (friends of the court), in the combined cases Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) and Robles-Wong v. State, filed briefs with the California intermediate appellate court, urging the court to reject the state's arguments that the courts should not even hear plaintiffs' case.

In an amicus brief written expertly and pro bono by Lowenstein Sandler PC, Education Law Center (ELC) and its national program, Education Justice, along with the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, provide the appellate court with the national perspective on key issues raised in the appeal. This brief explains that:

  1. Precedent from courts in sister states support the finding of a qualitative right to an education under Article IX, the Education Article of the California Constitution;
  2. Courts are institutionally suited to enforce the constitutional qualitative right to an education under judicially manageable standards; and,
  3. The separation of powers doctrine obligates the Court to interpret and enforce the education clause of the state constitution to protect the rights guaranteed to California's children.

While plaintiffs themselves include many Californians and several California organizations, additional in-state amici filed briefs in support of the CQE/Robles-Wong plaintiffs, including: (1) Fight Crime, Invest in Kids California; (2) Children Now, Education Trust-West and California Association of School Business Officials; and, (3) Californians Together.

The CQE and Robles-Wong plaintiffs filed their complaints in 2010 and filed amended complaints in 2011. Students and their families, nine school districts, the California School Boards Association, California State PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators filed Robles-Wong v. State, alleging that the state's school funding system is unconstitutional because it is does not fund the actual cost of providing the program of education mandated by the state and does not take into account the needs of disadvantaged students. A coalition, including students, grassroots organizations and taxpayers filed CQE v. State soon thereafter, alleging that the state is unconstitutionally failing to: provide all children with an equal opportunity to obtain a meaningful education; fund the public school system appropriately and adequately; and, prepare children to participate capably in our democracy, succeed economically, or live in our diverse society.

These cases were filed in the same court, hearings on motions were heard together, and the trial court dismissed both complaints. Plaintiffs chose to combine their cases in the appeals process.

For concise, up-to-date summaries of this litigation, and others, see Education Justice/States

Related Stories:
California's Low Level of School Funding Declines
Litigation Update: California and Other States
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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