A lawsuit was filed Monday in State Superior Court against the State of California; Gov. Gavin Newsom; State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond; State Controller Betty Yee; and the California Department of Public Education; by a coalition of students, parents, and school leaders to stop the defunding of public school students in California. The defunding is in California budget Senate Bill 98, which deals with spending on K-12 education, and denies funding for students newly enrolling in a public school.
“SB 98 violates the constitutional promise of a free and equitable public education for all students,” the coalition of students, parents, and public charter school organizations said during a ZOOM press conference Tuesday. Local civil rights leaders joined the coalition to address the severe negative impacts on students brought on by SB 98.
Backed by the California Teachers Association labor union (CTA), the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019, passed and signed into law bills which put a moratorium on charter school expansion to stop the creation of charter schools needed to meet the demand of parents and their children. AB 1506 states that the maximum total number of charter schools authorized to operate in California will be the total number of charter schools operating as of January 1, 2020.
Also in 2019, Gov. Newsom, who was strongly supported by the CTA during his campaign, called for more regulation of charter schools. Newsom spoke specifically about charter schools in his budget presentation address, issuing a veiled threat of additional transparency requirements – requirements not required of California public schools.
However, as the lawsuit notes, Charter Schools relied on ADA-based funding in opening and operating public schools for the State.
Through SB 98, if a public school has enrolled more students for the upcoming 2020-21 school year than they had enrolled the previous year, then according to the defunding provision of the budget bill, the state will not provide any additional funding for those newly enrolling students.
Attorney Jeremy Simmons, representing the public schools coalition, explained that California’s Constitution guarantees a free and equitable public education for all students. But SB 98 is actually a defunding of schools and students, and “violates this constitutional promise because it eliminates the traditional and historical method of providing state funding to schools based on per pupil attendance of the actual students enrolled in the school, and instead reduces school funding to prior year amounts regardless of how many children are enrolled. This provision defunds growth at any public school. This defunding of students breaks the long standing link between funding following the child and fails to provide schools the necessary resources to educate each child.”
“This is the most important civil rights education case since Brown vs. Board of Education,” in 1954 Simmons said, noting that low-income students of color will be disparately impacted.
The lawsuit explains:
“In 2020-21, because of budget-related legislation passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, tens of thousands of California students’ educations will be defunded, while most students’ educations in the State will remain fully funded, or more than fully funded. Among the defunded are students in district schools, students in charter schools, black students and brown students, students living in poverty, special education students, English learners, foster youth, homeless students, kindergarteners entering school for the first time, 12th graders trying to earn their diploma and advance to college. What these students all have in common is that they all attend public schools with growing enrollment – a subset of public schools in California. This disparate funding is not merely unfair and unconstitutional – it is harmful to students. It means that the best performing public schools – the public schools that parents are choosing to send their children to because they serve their students well – will be penalized for their success, for growing to serve more students.”
“This convention, even if temporary for just this year (and it may not be), will create severe disparities in education funding and the quality and extent of availability of educational opportunities throughout California, in violation of the California Constitution and California Supreme Court precedent. The Student Defunding Law will irreparably harm tens of thousands of students from kindergarten to 12th grade alike. In effect, the Student Defunding Law (i) completely defunds students’ public educations in the 2020-21 school year by reason that they have enrolled in a new public school with growing enrollment, denying the public school in which they enrolled the financial resources necessary to serve them, and (ii) forces schools with growing enrollment to stretch per-pupil funding allocated on account of attendance last year to serve many more students in the current school year – new and continuing students combined.”
SB 98 bill analysis clarifies how the defunding will take place, and just how significant the defunding is: “Defers a total of $11 billion in principal apportionment payments to local educational agencies (LEAs) from the 2020-21 fiscal year to the 2021-22 fiscal year in the amounts of $1.5 billion from February to November of 2021, $2.4 billion from March to October of 2021, $2.4 billion from April to September of 2021, $2.4 billion from May to August of 2021, and $2.4 billion from June to July of 2021.”
“There is a severe and persistent African American achievement gap that is well-documented based on student achievement data from the California Department of Education,” said Margaret Fortune, President and CEO of Fortune School which operates nine highly successful charter schools in California serving predominantly low-income, Black students. “Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature struck a budget deal that strips school funding away from tens of thousands of children who attend public schools that are growing. This is completely unfair. I created Fortune School to close the Black achievement gap in my hometown of Sacramento by preparing kids for college starting in kindergarten. Fortune School has responded very skillfully and quickly to the coronavirus pandemic with a rigorous distance learning program for our families. We even made our distance learning program available to the public for free,” Margaret Fortune added. “As a result, more and more Black and Latino parents are choosing Fortune School because we are effective and they want a high quality education for their children. Public school funding should follow the child to the school where they are enrolled, like it always has. The state budget changes all that and is a slap in the face to the many hard working Black and Latino parents who want the best opportunity for their children to obtain a good, high quality education.”
Fortune reiterated her concerns: “Black kids are going to fall further behind and we will not know how much with no test results,” noting that black parents are choosing public charter schools for their children to prepare them for college.
Fortune has located her schools in chronically underserved inner city locations. “But the state changed the rules midstream,” Fortune said. She said her schools as well as other charter schools made their decisions to build more schools and invest in infrastructure based on the money following the child — the publicly-funded money.
Sycamore Creek Community Charter school in Orange County was in its first year of operation in 2019 and is still growing. “The defunding provision of SB 98 thwarts our school from following our legally binding charter to serve all of the students seeking a public education with us,” said Dr. Sarah Bach, Founder and Executive Director. “We are at a loss as to how to provide our enrolled 126 students a free comprehensive Public Waldorf education with funding for only 65.9 ADA as SB 98 deems.”
Sacramento Pastor Stefon DuBose, whose two daughters attend Fortune Early College High School, said his older daughter “will be a senior next fall in Fortune’s first 12th grade class. Because the school didn’t have 12th grade last year, the state won’t pay for my daughter’s last year in high school.”
“Not funding public school students, because their families have made an educational decision in their children’s best interest is inequitable and unconscionable,” Frances Teso, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Voices College-Bound Language Academies, said in the press statement. Teso, a Latina, created the Voices model after her experiences growing up and later teaching in underserved communities in San Jose. Juan Carlos Villasenor, Founding Principal of Voices Morgan Hill, explained during the press conference that SB 98 denies services which have proved to be beneficial to low-income, underserved students. He added that Voices will be forced to eliminate its special education programs and an instructional coach at each school.
Joseph Benson, Executive Director of John Adams Academy, noted that it is Northern California’s only tuition free, TK-12 Classical Leadership Education public charter school network. with three academies in Roseville, El Dorado Hills and Lincoln. Benson said they are expecting 763 new students to their newest academy in the fall, and had planned that the students would have state funding. Benson said they are defunded $6.3 million, with disparate impacts on the students. He said the newest academy has been six years in development – obtaining the charter, acquiring property, locating a developer, permits, etc… to open in August. They’ve purchased computers, books and hired staff to accommodate the nearly 800 new students. “We have a moral obligation to serve students. The state withholding funding does a gross injustice to students and families,” Benson said.
Notably, SB 98 received no opposition during the Assembly vote.
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