CA initiative would promise quality education in K-12 schools


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Next year Californians could vote on a proposed initiative that promises something almost everyone wants: “high quality” public education for every student.

But the initiative, backed by longtime education reform advocates, could spark legal battles with teachers’ unions and school districts across the state. This would give parents more power to challenge policies they see as problematic for children’s schooling.

Currently, the state constitution requires California to fund public education, but says nothing about the quality of that education.

The proposed initiative, known as the Constitutional Law on the Right to High Quality Public Education, would amend the constitution to affirm that all students have the right to a high quality public education that “equips them with the skills to participate fully in education. economy. , our democracy and our society.

The proposed constitution change is expected to garner enough signatures to appear on the ballot by November 2022, after which it will be put to a statewide vote.

Proposal amendment does not define high quality education. It would be up to the complainants to argue and the courts to decide.

But proponents point to some state education laws that they say “don’t put the interests of students first,” such as forcing children to attend shoddy public schools, retaining low-performing employees and adopt policies that “protect abusive school employees or otherwise interfere with school safety.

The proposed amendment would not guarantee victory for anyone who wanted to challenge a school law or policy, said Michael Trujillo, spokesperson for the initiative, but it would give them some legal status.

“We are not selling a quick fix here,” he said. “We are selling a tool that parents and policy makers must arm themselves with. “

Among the backers is David Welch, a Silicon Valley executive who founded the nonprofit Students Matter.

Welch in 2012 fought a legal battle against California school employment rules, including teacher tenure laws. The complainants in the case of Vergara v. California argued that teacher employment laws made it difficult to retain effective teachers, which had a disproportionate impact on students marginalized in violation of the constitution.

The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers intervened on the state side, defending labor statutes they said did not prevent schools from removing bad teachers.

After a lengthy trial, the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2014 sided with students first. The state and the unions appealed, and in 2016 the California Court of Appeals overturned the superior court’s decision.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Welch said the Vergara case was relevant to the recent proposal, but said the initiative had a broader goal of improving education in California.

Half of California students don’t read at grade level, according to the California Reading Coalition. Among low-income students of color, over 65% read below grade.

“The legislature has been in charge, and the quality of the education system has deteriorated over a period of several decades,” Welch said. “What is missing is control of this system, which says ‘I need an education to function in this society.'”

“It must be a right,” he added.

Other supporters of the proposal include Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles who fought with teachers’ unions during his tenure.

Ben Austin, who previously served on the State Board of Education, is also in favor of the amendment. Austin in 2008 helped lobby for the state’s passage Parent Empowerment Act, which allows parents whose children are enrolled in failing schools to ask the district to make sweeping changes.

The California Federation of Teachers did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed amendment. Claudia Briggs, spokesperson for the California Teachers Association, said educators “are not considering, let alone taking a position on measures that have not yet been qualified.”

“We certainly believe that all students deserve a high quality public education – that is why educators put all their hearts and souls into the vital work they do every day,” she said in an e -mail.

William Koski, a professor at Stanford Law School and also a member of the School of Education, said the fact that the amendment would allow individual students and community groups to sue is “striking.”

“It looks like if someone thinks they’ve been denied a high quality education, they can go to court about it,” he said.

The remedies for such a claim are limited under the amendment. The proposal only allows a court to strike down or prohibit a law, regulation, policy or official action. It would prohibit the courts from imposing new taxes or new expenses to deal with complaints.

“It is essentially the right to say no, but it does not give the right to demand new mandates, taxes or spending for high quality education to be achieved,” Koski said.

Welch declined to say how much money he is contributing to the cause, but said “we are prepared to spend whatever money is needed because lives are being lost.”

This story was originally published October 25, 2021 5:00 a.m.

Lara Korte covers California politics for The Sacramento Bee. Prior to joining The Bee, she reported on higher education in Texas for Austin American-Statesman. She graduated from the University of Kansas.

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