Finding no support for an implied constitutional right to an education of “some quality” in Article IX of the State Constitution, the California Court of Appeals for the First Appellate District recently upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the adequacy claims brought by a broad coalition of parents, students, teachers, school boards and education advocacy organizations. Campaign for Quality Education et al. v. State of California.  Plaintiffs, relying on the California Supreme Court’s emphasis on the importance of education and its holding that education is a “fundamental right” under the state constitution, had argued that the current education finance system is denying millions of students their right to an education that provides them the opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for civic, economic and social success.

Justice Jenkins, writing for the majority, held that although he agreed that “the fundamental right to a public school education is firmly rooted in California law, “ there was “no explicit textual basis from which a constitutional right to a public school education of a particular quality may be discerned. “ He also relied strongly on “persuasive decisions” of other states that have similar constitutional language, i.e. Indiana and Missouri, which had also ruled against plaintiffs in adequacy litigations. He further stated that “the question of educational quality is inherently one of policy” that calls for “the exercise of legislative and administrative discretion.”

Justice Siggins concurred. He suggested that if large numbers of students are not meeting the levels of achievement established in the state’s standards, a statutory action might lie to ensure that students are afforded “the opportunity to obtain a meaningful education.”  Such a statutory basis for an action “would be in accord with the general principle of judicial restraint that courts should not decide constitutional questions where other grounds are available…”

In a lengthy dissenting opinion, Acting Presiding Justice Pollack stated that” if the constitutional provision is to have meaning, it must imply that the system…must provide some minimum qualitative level of education.”  He also wrote that many other states had found meaningful judicial standards for articulating educational quality and he quoted extensively relevant language from these decisions.

The plaintiffs will now seek to bring the case before the California Supreme Court for a final ruling on these issues.

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