Five-year-old Samaiya Atkins is suing the state of California.
Samaiya is about to start kindergarten at the charter school chosen by her parents, the Rex and Margaret Fortune School of Education in Sacramento, where her sister also attends. However, a few weeks ago the governor signed Senate Bill 98, a budget trailer bill that cut off the funding for Samaiya’s education in the 2020-21 school year.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from the school districts that once had a monopoly on public education. Funding for public schools in California is based on average daily attendance, meaning the money from the state follows the student.
SB98 froze the allocation of funding for the 2020-21 school year based on attendance in the 2019-20 school year. That means schools that have lower enrollment next year will receive money for phantom students, while the schools that have enrolled new students will receive nothing to cover the cost of their public school education.
This provision in the last-minute budget trailer bill will help failing schools cover the cost of paying employees, including custodians, drivers and others with nothing to do while the physical schools are closed. SB98 prohibits school districts from laying off or releasing any employees, except for cause, during the 2020-21 school year.
If the purpose of public schools is to function as a jobs program, this is a policy that serves that purpose.
I know what you’re thinking. What do you mean, “if”?
The sad fact is that public education in California is all about the grown-ups. It’s all about the salaries, the benefits, the control, the political power, the campaign donations and the next contract negotiation.
That’s usually not so blatantly obvious, but the coronavirus pandemic has really torn the mask off.
People in California pay a lot of money in taxes, and many of those taxes were passed following a costly campaign to persuade voters that the money was desperately needed for schools. Some Californians want to know why, if the schools are closed, there’s no refund coming.
Not only is there no refund, the unions that represent school employees are demanding tax increases. They practically wrote Assembly Bill 1253, which would raise California’s top marginal income tax rate to 16.8 percent, and they’re urging voters to approve the biggest property tax increase in state history, Proposition 15, which would sharply raise taxes on businesses statewide. Prop. 15 virtually guarantees that by the time Samaiya Atkins graduates from college, all the good jobs will be in other states.
No wonder she’s suing. Wait until she finds out about the state’s bond debt.
Samaiya is joined in this lawsuit by other student plaintiffs whose educations have been defunded for the 2020-21 school year by Senate Bill 98. The students are enrolled in four charter schools that also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit: the Rex and Margaret Fortune School of Education, Voices College-Bound Language Academies, John Adams Academies, Inc., and Sycamore Creek Community Charter School.
The lawsuit points out that education is a fundamental right protected by the California Constitution. It contends that defunding the education of newly enrolled charter school students violates the students’ constitutional rights as well as threatening the financial viability of their schools.
Many parents who have tried in the past few weeks to enroll their kids in new schools have found the doors slammed in their faces. State Sen. Melissa Melendez, R-Murrieta, who voted against SB98, said there are now about 13,000 children on waiting lists to enroll in charter schools.
New charter schools could face an existential threat from the loss of funding. Those that enrolled students in the spring are obligated to provide those students with an education in the fall, but the money owed by the state to pay the expenses of that education won’t be arriving.
Per-pupil funding will be higher at schools that have lost enrollment than at schools that have grown. Here’s how the lawsuit explains it:
“In real dollars, this means that notwithstanding the annual guaranteed per-pupil funding level in the State, approximately $10,000 per student under the State’s Local Control Funding Formula, students at public schools with declining enrollment will be funded at more than 100% because they share in extra funding apportioned to them on account of students who are no longer enrolled at their school (e.g., approximately $11,100 per student based on 10% enrollment decline), while students at schools with increasing enrollment will be effectively funded on a per-pupil basis at, for example, 25-80% of that annual guaranteed per-pupil funding level, e.g., funding of $2,500 to $8,000 per student, as multiple students must ‘share’ the same ‘per pupil’ allocation.”
That, the lawsuit says, is a violation of the constitutional right to a public education, the equal protection clause, and the due process clause.
The Newsom administration is backpedaling. H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance, told EdSource’s John Fensterwald on Tuesday that it has been the “intent of the Administration” that the Legislature will address the issue in August.
They’d better get to it. If they wait until Samaiya Atkins graduates from law school, they’ll be sorry.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected] Twitter: @Susan_Shelley