Friday, April 22, 2016
Court of Appeal Rules:
Courts Can’t Force State to Provide ‘Quality’ Education
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Constitution’s guarantee of free public schools does not permit the courts to establish and enforce a minimum standard as to what constitutes a “quality” education, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Ruling 2-1 in a pair of consolidated appeals Wednesday, Div. Three said that Art. IX, §§1 and 5 “do not provide for education of ‘some quality’ that may be judicially enforced by appellants.” Justice Martin Jenkins wrote the opinion, which was joined by Justice Peter Siggins, while Justice Stuart Pollak dissented.
The two constitutional provisions date back to 1879.
Section 1 provides:
“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”
Section 5 commands the Legislature to “provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.”
The Campaign for Quality Education, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Californians for Justice Faith in Action Bay Area, and PICO California, plus more than 20 individual students and parents, filed suit against the state in Alameda Superior Court. The groups claim to “represent thousands of parents, students and education advocates.”
The companion case was brought by nonprofit associations and guardians ad litem for public school students, as well as several school districts, and the California Teachers Association intervened and joined their appeal after Superior Court Judge Steven Brick sustained demurrers.
The plaintiffs in both actions, as well as CTA, alleged that the state’s current method of funding schools is irrational and fails to ensure that all students can meet the academic standards promulgated by the Legislature. They sought a declaration that the state does not fund public schools at a level sufficient to provide all students with a quality education, and an order requiring the state to implement a new funding system under judicial supervision.
But while agreeing that educational quality is a public policy issue, Jenkins said that neither of the constitutional sections cited by the plaintiffs is a basis for judicial relief.
“[T]he question in this case is not whether the concept of an education of ‘some quality’ comports with good public policy,” he wrote. “The question before us is whether the right to an education of ‘some quality’ is enshrined, as a constitutional right, under sections 1 and 5 of article IX.”
Neither the text nor the history of the constitutional provisions support the plaintiffs’ position, Jenkins said, nor may the court “glean, through surmise or speculation, an implicit right to educational adequacy from these sections.” Instead, the sections state “great principles and fundamental truths…but do not mandate the Legislature to act in a particular manner regarding what precise laws shall be made to implement these principles and truths,” he said.
He distinguished the 1970s Serrano v. Priest cases dealing with the equal protection aspects of school funding formulas. “[U]nlike the Serrano decisions on which appellants rely, allowing appellants’ funding claim to proceed would require the courts to intrude into the Legislature’s appropriation powers, which we decline to do,” the justice wrote.
Siggins, while joining Jenkins’ opinion, also wrote separately to argue that while “I can appreciate the plaintiffs’ frustration and dissatisfaction with the overall adequacy of California’s public schools…I cannot agree that article IX provides a right to command the state to fund schools at some qualitative level.”
The state, he said, has fulfilled its constitutional mandate by funding schools and establishing standards to measure the performance of schools and students.
“It seems to me that our state’s obligation to ensure that most students perform at adequate levels is prescribed in the statutory academic standards,” he wrote. “In the event that large numbers of students cannot meet expected levels of achievement, an action should arise under the statutes to improve the performance of our public schools without resort to the general language of article IX as authority.”
Pollak argued in dissent that “the Constitution requires a system that provides students with a meaningful basic education in reality as well as on paper.” He noted that a majority of other state supreme courts have “concluded that the constitutional requirement of maintaining a system of public schools implies the duty to support the system at some qualitative level.”
The Campaign for Quality Education said in a press release that it would seek review in the Supreme Court.
“Plaintiffs categorically disagree with the court’s majority opinion that the right to education in California carries with it no guarantee of minimum quality,” the release quoted lead counsel John Affeldt of Public Advocates, Inc. as saying. As our state Supreme Court has said on more than one occasion, the right to education is a fundamental right that ‘means more than access to a classroom.’ We will take plaintiffs’ appeal to the Supreme Court and we remain confident that we will ultimately prevail.”
A number of groups filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs, as did former superintendents of public instruction Delaine Eastin and Jack O’Connell.
The case is Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California, 16 S.O.S. 2003.
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