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Law & Courts

Court Says California Not Obligated to Pay Gifted Child’s College

By Andrew Trotter — December 05, 2006 2 min read

California is not required to pay for the tuition of an extremely gifted 13-year-old student who is enrolled in college, a state appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, in Sacramento, unanimously dismissed an appeal by Leila J. Levi, the mother of Levy M. Clancy, who is now 16.

According to court papers, the boy began taking college courses at age 7, passed the state’s high school exit exam at 9, and started attending the University of California, Los Angeles, at 13.

Ms. Levi sued the state department of education in 2004, seeking to force it to pay for her son’s college tuition. She argued in her suit that he was entitled to a state-funded college education because the state’s compulsory-education law required him to attend school until age 16, but her son “cannot attend a traditional K-12 school because the schools operated by [the California Department of Education] and Clancy’s local district are ill-equipped and unsuitable for highly gifted children and will actually cause more harm to him than if he simply did not attend.”

She contended that the schools could not meet “his specific psychosocial and academic needs,” and that he had already completed a standard K-12 education.

In a Nov. 7 ruling, the appeals court held that the education department was not required under the state constitution or state statutes, or as a matter of public policy, to pay the costs of Mr. Clancy’s college education. The California Constitution’s guarantee of free schooling only encompasses grades K-12 and does not include the state’s colleges and universities, Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court.

The court also ruled that neither the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act nor other public-policy considerations could force the state to provide a college education. Extreme giftedness is not listed among the disabilities encompassed by the IDEA, so the child was neither covered by the law nor has “exceptional needs” as defined by the state’s education laws.

Nor could the judge find any provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, or California’s plan to implement that federal law, “that requires K-12 public education to meet every student’s particularized educational needs.”

Justice Cantil-Sakauye noted that the court was not addressing whether the state should attempt to meet the academic needs of every student in the K-12 system.

“We are aware there is significant debate in the field of education regarding the educational needs of gifted and highly gifted children,” but those matters are properly addressed by the legislature or the electorate, the judge said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2006 edition of Education Week

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