Williams Settlement Addresses Inequities in Education Funding
The American Civil Liberties Union and Public Advocates, a public interest law firm, released a report in December 2005 detailing improvements in the California public school system one year after important changes in education law went into effect.
The report, which chronicles the first year after a settlement was reached in the historic class action education lawsuit Williams v. California, identifies successes and challenges so far in school district, county, state and community implementation of those new laws. The full report is available at the following Web site:
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has supported the work of both the ACLU and Public Advocates to ensure that the implementation of the Williams settlement effectively delivers new resources to disadvantaged schools. Grants from the Foundation’s Education Program have helped the ACLU serve as a source of information for the public about the terms of the settlement and provide presentations and trainings for lawyers and community groups on how to access new resources for low-income schools.
With the help of a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, Public Advocates has also been an important voice for Williams implementation at the state level and has mobilized parents, community members and grassroots groups to work with their local schools to put this additional funding to its best possible use. Public Advocates has also worked collaboratively with school districts and county superintendents to help design policies for Williams implementation.
The Williams lawsuit, originally filed in May 2000, charged the state with reneging on its constitutional obligation to provide sufficient instructional materials, adequate learning facilities and qualified teachers. The settlement, which was reached in August 2004, and subsequent legislation hold schools accountable for delivering these basic necessities and provides about $1 billion to accomplish these goals.
“This settlement has helped empower school districts and communities with resources to identify and fix problems in schools quickly,” said Brooks Allen, an ACLU staff attorney. “Williams provides a foundation for improving California’s public education system.”
The report specifically details how new accountability systems help ensure that all students receive sufficient instructional materials, properly assigned teachers and safe, clean, and functional classrooms. In addition, the report identifies three ways in which school officials, parents, students and teachers can identify problems and create positive change in public schools.
Districts are now required to conduct rigorous self-evaluations through facilities inspection systems and annual instructional materials hearings and then report results to parents and students through public resolutions and School Accountability Report Cards. Parents can use the Report Cards to compare schools and advocate for improvements.
Students, parents, community members, and teachers can now report where a school lacks sufficient textbooks or instructional materials, safe and healthy facilities, or properly assigned teachers through the new Uniform Complaint Process. Complaints must be addressed within 30 working days.
County superintendents are now visiting and reviewing low-performing schools to ensure there are sufficient instructional materials, properly assigned teachers, and clean, safe, and functional facilities. Before the Williams legislation, problems like a lack of textbooks could go unnoticed by the school district. Already students across the state have received tens of thousands of new books and materials and hundreds of unsafe and unhealthy facility conditions have been repaired.
“Governor Schwarzenegger deserves a great deal of credit for settling this case,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates in San Francisco. “Of course, not all problems have been solved in all schools, but the good progress in the first year shows reform can happen with focused support and accountability.”
Though the Williams settlement was an important step forward for education reform in California, the Hewlett Foundation recognizes that a great deal of work remains to be done to provide a high quality education for all students in California. The Foundation’s Education Program is continuing its efforts to achieve this important goal.