California Sued Over Construction Funding
Calling the way California doles out money to build new schools illegal, a coalition that includes Los Angeles students and community groups filed a suit last week seeking to bar the state from handing out construction aid until the most crowded districts can be guaranteed more help.
The lawsuit, filed March 30 in state court in Los Angeles, charges that the system for allocating the money is flawed because it considers applications from districts on a first-come, first-served basis. That is unfair, the plaintiffs contend, because it takes longer for urban districts to come up with school sites, which must be identified when applying for the state funds.
"It's going to take a lot longer for you to send your application to the state, and by the time you do, you may be entirely frozen out," said Hector O. Villagra, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represents the coalition.
At issue is about $1.9 billion in money for school construction approved by voters as part of Proposition 1A in November 1998. About $1 billion in Proposition 1A funding has already been handed out, and the deadline to apply for the remaining money is July 1.
The suit names various California officials and the California State Allocation Board, which distributes the school construction aid in a two-step process that first certifies need and then considers requests in the order received.
The plaintiffs maintain that overcrowding has resulted in an inferior education for some of the state's poorest children, especially in the 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District. Officials there have instituted year-round schools with fewer school days for children in every calendar track and busing over considerable distances to alleviate the space shortage.
Only a system that gives priority to the most crowded districts can meet the requirements of Proposition 1A and fulfill the state constitutional mandate of equal education for all students, the suit contends.
Mr. Villagra said urban districts have fallen further behind in their building needs in recent years as enrollment has surged.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said late last week that lawyers there had not yet reviewed the suit. A hearing in the case is expected in the next several weeks.
Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 21