By FRANK PUGH
Frank Pugh is a member of the Santa Rosa City Schools school board and president of the California School Boards Association. For more information about the lawsuit, go to www.fixschoolfinance.org
There has been little local press coverage of a most recent development on the landscape of California’s public school finance system, with which I am directly involved.
I’m a local school board member and also the president of the California School Boards Association. In this last capacity, I assisted our organization in filing the historic Robles-Wong v. California lawsuit against the state of California last week. It has been reported by at least one national newspaper reporter that this lawsuit could be on par with Brown v. Board of Education for the potential to affect the future of education funding in the state of California.
In short, we argue that California’s broken school finance system is unconstitutional. We also believe that California’s school finance system is unsound, unstable, insufficient and erratic. This current system is not aligned with required educational programs nor with student needs.
As a result, our students are being denied the opportunity to master the educational programs that the state requires. Education is a fundamental right of every child in California, and our state constitution requires a school system that prepares students to become informed citizens and productive members of society.
Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters’ recent column (“Lawsuit takes school duel to a new level,” Wednesday) asks good questions. which need good answers. The only concern is that our state Legislature has no answers and is, quite frankly, not looking for any.
I think we can all agree that our lawmakers have had no real plan for funding education in our state for decades. The formulas that this state relies upon to fund education date back to the early 1950s. The formulas do not take into account, for example, the costs to implement demanding standards, the requirements of No Child Left Behind, special education, the California High School Exit Exam, the diversity of the children we serve and the avalanche of unfunded mandates required from our state Legislature.
The facts are clear about the staffing ratios in California schools. California is 49th among all states in student-to-teacher ratios. We are 45th in instructional aides. We are 46th in district officials and administrators. We are 48th in total school staff. We are 49th in guidance counselors. We are 50th in librarians.
California spends $2,131 less per pupil than the national average, ranking the state 44th in the country. When adjusted for regional cost differences of providing educational services, California spends $2,856 less per pupil than the national average, or 47th among all states. From a different perspective, California spends less per pupil than each of the largest 10 states in the nation — almost $6,000 less per pupil than New York.
With school funding not being a priority in our state, is it any wonder why we are not as successful as we should be in student achievement? Because of the lack of interest on the part of our lawmakers in solving the school finance problem, we were left with no choice but to file a lawsuit against the state of California.
We are not asking the state for a specific amount of money. Instead we are asking the court to declare the current education finance system unconstitutional and require the state to determine what is needed to help all children succeed. Every credible study and report, including those commissioned by the state, demonstrates that the school finance system is dysfunctional and seriously underfunded.
Filing this lawsuit was the last resort. The governor and legislators of our state have known for some time that the current school finance system is harming students, and they have done nothing to remedy the crisis.
Our court system will now have the opportunity to help our lawmakers do the right thing for students.