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Suit Seeking Vouchers for L.A. Pupils Survives State Challenge

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California education officials have suffered a setback in their attempts to derail a lawsuit demanding private school vouchers for a group of low-income students in Los Angeles-area public schools.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge late last month denied a motion by state officials challenging the soundness of the suit filed by the Washington-based Institute for Justice on behalf of 39 children from low-income families. The families are seeking vouchers as an alternative to what they allege is an inadequate public education.

The suit demands that the parents of the plaintiff students in Los Angeles, Compton, and Ingleside schools be given funding equal to their share of state education dollars to pay tuition in other public or private schools. The suit was not filed as a class action. (See Education Week, June 17, 1992.)

The conservative advocacy institute filed the suit against California's superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig; the state board of education; and the state controller, Gray Davis, in June.

Not 'Fatally' Flawed

Arguing that the lawsuit failed to specify how the public education provided by the state was legally inadequate, the state defendants filed a motion calling the suit "fatally'' flawed.

After a hearing, Judge Raymond Cardenas ruled Sept. 25 against the state's motion and ordered the defendants to answer the suit within 20 days.

The judge wrote that the suit "does allege sufficient facts to support the claims that state defendants are failing to deliver adequate educational opportunities'' to the plaintiffs.

He declined to add the three districts the children attend as defendants, saying that the state would be the only party able to provide the relief sought by the lawsuit--the vouchers.

The Institute for Justice organized a similar suit seeking vouchers for a group of low-income families in Chicago. State and city education officials have filed motions seeking to dismiss the suit.

Some legal experts had expressed doubt the voucher effort would get very far in the courts.

But Clint Bolick, the institute's litigation director, said Judge Cardenas's preliminary ruling indicated that he is "taking this litigation quite seriously.''

Joseph R. Symkowick, the general counsel for the California department of education, said the judge's ruling was "flat wrong'' and that the defendants would ask an appellate court to grant the motion and dismiss the suit.

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