CASE STUDIES: BOND FUNDING
School-bond funding distribution blasted: Lawsuit contends inner-city
districts are shortchanged
By Dan Smith
Bee Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief
(Published March 30, 2000)
California's process of distributing bond money for school construction
has illegally shortchanged inner-city districts that serve primarily
low-income and minority children, resulting in a gaping educational
disparity in the state, a lawsuit to be filed today will allege.
The suit, to be filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center,
charges that methods used by the State Allocation Board and the
Office of Public School Construction are unfair, arbitrary, complicated,
ever-changing and "extremely vulnerable to lobbying and cronyism."
Moreover, the suit charges that the process violates the constitutional
guarantee that pupils be afforded equal educational opportunity
and state laws governing the distribution of bond money. It asks
the court to order the allocation board to suspend distribution
of money from Proposition 1A, the $9.2 billion school bond measure
voters approved in 1998, until the board develops a "rational,
need-based" distribution system that "avoids gross disparities
in expenditures and educational quality."
State officials with the school construction office and the allocation
board were reluctant to comment until they review the lawsuit.
"But we think the system that is in place is fundamentally
fair," said Sandy Harrison, spokesman for state Finance Director
Tim Gage, chair of the allocation board. "It funds the districts
that apply and that can show a need."
To be filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of
schoolchildren, parents and community groups there, the suit says
districts in Sacramento, Fresno and San Diego, among others, also
have been hurt by the funding system.
Hardest hit, according to the suit, are 34 of California's approximately
1,000 school districts that collectively serve a student population
that is primarily non-white and poor. Fast-growing districts in
suburban and rural areas have received a disproportionate amount
of money for new schools because of board allocation policies,
while similar growth in poorer, urban districts "has typically
been met by shoehorning more and more children into existing facilities
that are manifestly inadequate," the suit alleges.
The suit contends the disparity has existed for more than a decade
and has been exacerbated with the distribution of funds from Proposition
1A. Los Angeles Unified School District, with 14 percent of the
entire state's fund eligibility under the system, should expect
"hundreds of millions of dollars" of the $6.7 billion
Proposition 1A dedicated to K-12 construction, the suit contends.
But the district is likely to receive only $25 million, according
to the suit. The lack of construction funds flowing to Los Angeles,
the suit alleges, has created overcrowded conditions, forced the
district to increase busing, install 4,500 portable classrooms
and vastly expand the number of pupils on multitrack school years,
all of which has resulted in "inferior" schooling and
high dropout rates.
The suit details hardships experienced by a variety of the children
listed as plaintiffs. Kindergartner Andres Daza attends a school
existing solely of portable classrooms in a park, and must deal
with the so-called "Concept 6" school year -- in school
for four months, off for two, back in for four months and off
for another two months, according to the suit.
"The continuation of such conditions throughout a child's
school career robs him or her of the equal educational opportunity
California's schoolchildren are guaranteed by the California Constitution,"
the suit says.