On July 12, 2010, a coalition of groups and individuals representing thousands of low-income students and parents from across California sued the State of California, calling on the State to live up to its constitutional responsibility and “provide all California public school students with a new school finance system that sufficiently and equitably supports its public schools, so that every child has a reasonable opportunity to obtain a meaningful education that prepares them for civic, social, and economic success in the 21st century.”
The complaint in CQE v. California makes two main legal claims under the Education Clause of the California Constitution, which are under review on appeal:
1) that the State’s school funding system prevents schools from providing children with their fundamental right to obtain an education that enables them to participate fully in our society’s economic and civic life, and
2) that the school funding system violates the State’s duty to “keep up and support” a system of common schools by failing to support the delivery of the State’s adopted academic standards to students.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs asked the court to declare the State’s current funding system unconstitutional and to order that a new one be created that aligns to the actual costs of preparing students for college and careers and to individual student needs.
The lawsuit highlights the huge achievement gaps low-income students, English Learners and students of color suffer compared to their peers in California and the huge gaps all California students suffer compared to their peers in other states. In the five years since the complaint was filed, California students continue to lag behind their peers in nearly every other state on national math and reading assessments. The first round of the state’s new achievement test released last Fall shows California’s neediest students suffer from even larger achievement gaps under the state’s new Common Core standards than existed under the prior academic standards.
These persistent gaps are not surprising given the State’s continued failure to invest the necessary resources in public education. Despite the passage of the finance reform Local Control Funding Formula in 2013—which only seeks to return the state to its pre-recession level of education spending when California ranked 44th in per pupil spending. As a result of its underinvestment, California continues to rank dead last in the nation in teacher to student ratios and last or close-to-last in other staff to student ratios.
The Court of Appeals has consolidated the appeal of CQE v. California with a similar appeal in the Robles-Wong v. California case, filed in May 2010 by the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, the California State PTA, and a number of individual plaintiffs. The two lawsuits are based on similar legal theories and share the same goal—to ensure California's students are supported by the State’s school finance system so that they acquire a quality education and graduate college and career ready.
For a summary document about the case prepared for the Oral Arguments hearing on January 27, 2016 at the California Court of Appeals, click here.
 Jonathan Kaplan, “California’s Support for K-12 Education Ranks Low by Almost Any Measure,” California Budget & Policy Center, November 2015, at [insert link].