Settlement provides $50 million for struggling California elementary schools to boost literacy

Feb. 21, 2020
California agrees to provide additional funding for 75 schools where students score poorly on reading skills.

California elementary schools with the poorest reading test scores will receive an additional $50 million in state funding to improve student performance, as part of a lawsuit settlement.

The settlement came in a 2017 suit filed on behalf of students, parents and advocacy groups against the State of California. The suit asserted that that the low reading scores at many of the schools in California were the result of the state's' failure to provide students with equal access to education and therefore violated California’s constitution.

“The longest, yet most urgent struggle for social justice in America has been for access to literacy,” says Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that filed the suit and announced the settlement. “The right to read is not just the cornerstone of education, it is the cornerstone of our democracy. Without it, we continue to build a future on the illusion that the haves compete on the same terms with the have nots."

Public Counsel says the settlement calls for the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to provide resources to improve literacy outcomes for the state’s lowest performing schools, adopt a holistic approach to literacy, and provide extra support to the Stockton Unified School District.

The suit argued that California "continues to allow children from disadvantaged communities to attend schools that are unable to provide them with an opportunity to obtain basic literacy." It states that of the 200 largest school districts in the United States, California has 11 of the lowest-performing 26 districts.

"In fact, Stockton Unified School District is the third-lowest performing large district in the nation," the suit says.

[RELATED: Read the lawsuit here.]

The key provisions of the settlement, according to Public Counsel:

$50 million in block grants for 75 low-performing elementary schools to develop three-year literacy action plans that will enable schools to invest in evidenced-based practices to improve student literacy.

•Adoption of a holistic approach to literacy. Recipients of block grants are required to prioritize community engagement, and perform a root-cause analysis that examines the instructional, school climate, and social-emotional factors that have led to low student achievement. 

A shift away from punitive school discipline practices, including the issuance of state guidelines to reduce racially disproportionate discipline.

•$3 million for the creation of a statewide “expert lead on literacy” who will work to strengthen the state’s literacy infrastructure and training opportunities, and assist grant recipients.

[MORE: Read the settlement agreement (31 pages)]

The ’s $53 million in new funding is included in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2020 budget, and will need to be approved by the state legislature before it goes into effect. Additionally, the settlement calls for the Stockton Unified District to be added to the state’s Community Engagement Initiative, a program that provides extra support to struggling school districts.

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