Alison Yin/EdSource
The funding will be distributed as 3-year grants to help schools improve reading instruction.

Seventy-five California elementary schools where students have the lowest average reading scores will share $50 million in state grants to improve reading and writing instruction, according to a legal settlement announced Thursday.

The settlement in Los Angeles Superior Court ends a much-watched lawsuit filed on behalf of students who struggled with reading at three elementary schools — La Salle Avenue Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Van Buren Elementary School in the Stockton Unified School District, and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in the Inglewood Unified School District. The lawsuit, Ella T. vs. the State of California, alleged that the state violated the students’ civil rights by denying them a quality education.

“Achieving literacy for all children is one of the single most urgent issues in California,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a director at Public Counsel, a public interest law firm that filed the lawsuit with the law firm Morrison & Foerster. “This settlement is a milestone in that struggle.”

The literacy block grants, given over three years, will pay for literacy coaches, teacher’s aides, training for teachers and reading material that reflects the cultural makeup of the student population.

The California Department of Education is working now to identify which schools will receive grants, which will be based on 3rd-grade Smarter Balanced test results for English language arts. Charter schools are also eligible for the funds.

The settlement also includes an additional $3 million to hire a literacy expert at the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency, that will help the schools address the root causes of reading difficulties and work with schools statewide on improving literacy instruction in general.

Discipline reform is also part of the settlement, as the lawsuit linked reading scores to suspension rates. According to the lawsuit, students who are frequently suspended — disproportionately, black and Latino students — miss valuable time in the classroom, fall behind academically and in some cases, never catch up. The literacy rate in prisons in the U.S. is less than 50 percent, according to the Literacy Project Foundation.

The lawsuit includes funding for restorative justice and other alternatives to suspension, although many districts are already taking steps to reduce suspensions. California banned willful defiance suspensions for kindergarten through 3rd-grade students in 2015, and an extension on the ban through 8th grade goes into effect in July.

The settlement will build on literacy initiatives the state is already planning, said Gov. Gavin Newsom’s press secretary, Vicky Waters. Newsom’s budget calls for $600 million in grants and services for schools with low test scores and high numbers of children in poverty.

“Today’s announced settlement builds further on these proposed investments and focuses on strengthening early literacy programs, which are critical to a child’s later success in school,” Waters said. “California is committed to closing opportunity gaps by directing extra support and resources to school districts and schools that serve students who need extra help.”

Roslyn Broadnax, a parent in Los Angeles who was involved with the lawsuit, said the settlement was noteworthy because it had statewide implications. Previous efforts to improve her local schools had limited reach, she said.

“We don’t want to change people’s minds any more. We want to change policy,” she said. “We don’t want clean bathrooms and fixed windows. Those things are important, but we need new policies.”

The lawsuit centered on several elementary students in the three districts. In the suit, Ella T. is identified as a 2nd-grader at La Salle Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles Unified who was “reading at a below-kindergarten level and in need of ‘intensive support’ but was not offered any,” according to the suit.

Another student, Dylan O., a 7th-grader at Van Buren, a K-8 school in Stockton Unified, was reading at a 2nd-grade level, which placed him in the bottom 1 percent of students his age.

The Ella T. lawsuit follows a similar suit in 2016 that the California Superior Court declined to hear, but a dissenting judge said was worth pursuing. “The schoolchildren of California deserve to know whether their fundamental right to education is a paper promise or a real guarantee,” wrote California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.

The settlement went into effect Thursday, although the money will not be available until the Legislature passes a budget in June. Schools will likely receive their funds in the 2020-21 school year. The $53 million — $50 million in school grants and $3 million for a statewide literacy director — will come from Proposition 98 funds in the governor’s proposed education budget.

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  1. Marshall Eubanks 5 months ago5 months ago

    So many issues in education contribute to the data that reveals over 50% of all students leave high school, or drop out sooner, without the ability to read or do math at a basic level. More and more of those students and young adults are living at home or in conditions that promote cyclical behavior. Parents and victims are feeling it more than ever. As a result, they want someone to blame, someone to … Read More

    So many issues in education contribute to the data that reveals over 50% of all students leave high school, or drop out sooner, without the ability to read or do math at a basic level. More and more of those students and young adults are living at home or in conditions that promote cyclical behavior.

    Parents and victims are feeling it more than ever. As a result, they want someone to blame, someone to “pay” for their “situation.”

    Up until recently, the courts generally agreed. “You can lead a horse to water …” and all of that has prevailed. But recently, lawsuits and subsequent litigation have taken an interesting turn.

    Historically, students with special needs and IEPs (Individual Education Plans) were the ones in court taking home tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment outlined in the IEPs and not delivered adequately by public schools. It’s the law – IDEA. (Another whole discussion can be had about what the federal government is doing with Title I and IDEA Block Grants to States.)

    Is it fair to blame education and educators for kids not learning? After all, we delivered the instruction.

    Well folks, therein lies the dilemma. All instruction is not equal. In fact, all curriculum is not equally effective.

    With total access to information and knowledge provided by the Internet, parents, guardians, attorneys, judges, politicians and others can now educate themselves. They are now beginning to understand why their kid can’t read or do math. And with that they now know it wasn’t their fault as a bad parent (define that one my friends) or their kid as a bad kid. In fact, they are beginning to challenge the “Black Box’ of education.

    We are witnessing today the result of inattention to the motto “All means all” which is often a part of educators belief system.

    It is time to treat education as we treat medicine. If we don’t, we will soon see lawsuits and litigation at the classroom level. Teachers will have to get “Malinstruction Insurance.” If the teacher can defend and demonstrate that they did what the principal told them to do, at a cost of course, the suits and litigation will move to the building level. And so on.

    It is very, very complicated indeed.

    And by the way, $50M to 75 schools is a drop in the bucket. It won’t change a thing. In 2000, the federal government spent $3.5 billion to improve literacy across the country. Nuff said.

  2. Raul Ruiz 5 months ago5 months ago

    Ben Carlson, who didn't know his (single parent) mother was illiterate, was behind in school. He (they) moved from a subpar school, to a more affluent neighborhood (in with family members). He was behind the other students, and instead of playing with his friends, his mother required that he walk to the library (past his friends) to do two book reports a week. By the time he got to junior high school, he had surpassed … Read More

    Ben Carlson, who didn’t know his (single parent) mother was illiterate, was behind in school. He (they) moved from a subpar school, to a more affluent neighborhood (in with family members). He was behind the other students, and instead of playing with his friends, his mother required that he walk to the library (past his friends) to do two book reports a week. By the time he got to junior high school, he had surpassed the other students. He ended going to an Ivy League school and becoming a brain surgeon.

  3. Nigel Evelyn-Dupree 5 months ago5 months ago

    As, a number of programs assessing Binocular 3D Vision have grown across schools in US and UK driven by WHO ICD-10 providing overwhelming evidence that in the 21st Century over-exposure to the near and close-up exacerbated by sub-optimal display screen ergonomics will this enabled funding for ALL children to be visually assessed for “Access to Text”, and as a result thereby, be entitled to Accessibility adaptions in order to read fluently and participate in learning ?

  4. Stephanie Tarzia 5 months ago5 months ago

    This is great for the children who need the support. However, I hate the precedent of rewarding a school with funding that is not doing what they are supposed to for their students. Will money solve this problem? I hope the funding will come with oversight to insure that the programs are well delivered to the students who need the support. I would love to see schools that have programs that are making a difference … Read More

    This is great for the children who need the support. However, I hate the precedent of rewarding a school with funding that is not doing what they are supposed to for their students. Will money solve this problem? I hope the funding will come with oversight to insure that the programs are well delivered to the students who need the support.

    I would love to see schools that have programs that are making a difference for kids be rewarded with funding, as all California schools are underfunded comparatively with other states across the country.