A second school suit is in the chute

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If one major school suit weren’t enough for the governor, another is heading his way.

The Campaign for Quality Education and other groups representing low-income students and their families sent Gov. Schwarzenegger a letter on Thursday, which he will no doubt ignore, threatening to file their own lawsuit unless he acts immediately “to provide all California public school students with a new school finance system that sufficiently and equitably supports its public schools.”

The nine-page letter which reads like a legal complaint that lacks only a stamp on the envelope, documents calls for action over the years and the efforts by community groups to lobby for it. “Yet to date, the State has failed to take any action to respond to these demands to adequately and equitably fund our schools. Indeed, the policymaking process seems paralyzed, unable to put a stop to drastic funding cuts and budget impasses and even less able to enact a new and different school funding system.”

The last straw may have been Schwarzenegger’s veto last year of AB 8, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Brownley, which would have established a bipartisan government working group to propose a new rational and equitable funding structure, the goals of the latest school funding suit. The bill had overwhelming support in the Legislature.

John Affeldt, managing attorney with Public Advocates, representing the groups, said that their suit would have similar goals and present a legal theory similar to the suit filed Thursday by California School Boards Assn. and other organizations. The timing of the letter wasn’t coincidental. His group has discussed a joint suit with  attorneys for the other groups.

But the Campaign for a Quality Education wants an “independent seat at the table” for low-income students, assuming  a court combines the two suits. There may be issues over which the groups’ interests diverge. As an example, he cited a SB 1396, proposed by Democratic Sen. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, which would free up more money for  districts to spend as they choose. Public Advocates wants the bill amended to ensure a larger share of dollars goes to help low-income, minority children.

Public Advocates was the lead attorney in the successful Williams case, an adequacy lawsuit in 2000, seeking more resources for low-income schools, that Schwarzenegger settled four years later. Other groups joining with the Campaign for a Quality Education are Californians for Justice and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

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