FILE - Community College classroom

(The Center Square) – A coalition of students, parents and school leaders have sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and several state officials over a newly signed law, SB 98, which eliminates the historical method of state funding of public schools.

Instead of funding being based on per pupil attendance of the actual students enrolled in the school, it reduces school funding to prior year amounts regardless of how many children are enrolled. This provision defunds growth at all public schools and fails to provide schools with the necessary resources to educate each student, the plaintiffs argue.

Essentially, no new funding is permitted to public schools in which new students are enrolled. SB 98 violates the constitutional promise of a free and equitable public education for all students, the lawsuit alleges, but primarily impacts students of color and low-income families disproportionately.

Joette Spencer Campbell, Education Chair, NAACP-San Bernardino, said that as a result of the bill, “Black kids are going to fall further behind. Black parents are choosing effective schools for their children ..., [which] are of course growing. The money should follow the child to the school where they are enrolled. Anything less is a violation of a child’s civil rights.”

When signing the bill, Newsom included a signing statement, which acknowledged, “By not funding those expansions, families enrolled in those schools may be displaced with impacts exacerbated by the uncertainties caused by COVID-19. I urge members of the Legislature to pursue targeted solutions to these potential disruptions, and will work with you in the coming weeks to enact them.”

Students, through their Guardian Ad Litem, and several nonprofit corporations, Rex And Margaret Fortune School of Education, Voices College-Bound Language Academies, John Adams Academies, Inc., and Sycamore Creek Community Charter School sued Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond, State Controller Betty Yee, and the California Department of Education.

Represented by Sacramento-Based Young, Minney & Corr, LLP, they filed suit in the Superior Court of the State of California in Sacramento County.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to invalidate the statute, arguing it violates the state constitutional right to a public education, the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses and Article 16, Section 8 and 8.5 of California Constitution.

“While some growing school students will be funded around $2,500 per student, other declining enrollment schools could be receiving north of $11,000 per student (the average LCFF funding is around $10,000 per student) – as the school has more funding and less students to educate,’” Paul Minney, partner at Young, Minney & Corr, said. “This funding disparity is more than four times the disparity the California Supreme Court has already declared as unconstitutional in the Serrano I and II cases.”

The only way to avoid the undue burden placed on schools with growing student populations and less funding is to deny enrollment to new students, the plaintiffs argue, which public schools cannot legally do, nor do they want to do so.

Serving a greater number of students with less financial resources results in larger class sizes, fewer teachers, less support staff, less supplies and less technology.

School enrollments change due to families moving in and out of communities, younger children becoming school age and entering public school for the first time, and schools adding new grade levels as students matriculate. Schools also receive new students due to children getting older and reaching a new grade, moving from an elementary school to a middle school or from a middle school to a high school. Parents also choose to enroll their children in different schools that better fit their specific needs, such as charter schools.

About 43 percent of California school districts increased enrollment over the past five years in more than 400 districts in thousands of public schools. Public charter schools have also experienced growth in the state as families have sought education options that better align for the needs of their children.

The state’s decision to defund students is “a blow to communities of color who rely on the social and academic services at high-performing public schools to close the achievement gap and break the cycle of poverty,” Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School, said. Fortune School operates nine highly successful charter schools that predominantly serve low-income, Black students.

Defunding tens of thousands of children at growing public schools “is completely unfair,” Fortune says. The Fortune School was created “to close the black achievement gap in Sacramento,” she says, which “has responded very skillfully and quickly” to coronavirus-related challenges. Its distance-learning program was also made available to the public for free.