In two separate lawsuits, several nonprofits, guardians of minor students attending public schools, and taxpayers sued the State of California and various individuals in their official capacities. They alleged that all public school children have a constitutional right to an education of "some quality" and, alternatively, that the Legislature is currently violating its constitutional obligations because its current method of funding education fails to ensure that all public school children have the opportunity to become educationally proficient according to current legislatively-mandated academic standards. The claims were based in part on sections 1 and 5 of article IX of the California Constitution.
In a consolidated appeal of the trial court's decision to dismiss the claims based on sections 1 and 5 of article IX, plaintiffs in both lawsuits sought to reinstate those claims. The appellate court acknowledged that there is no doubt that the fundamental right to a public school education is firmly rooted in California law. However, the Court disagreed that the right to an education of "some quality" is a constitutional right; rather, it is good public policy.
In making this determination, the Court found that sections 1 and 5 of article IX impose two duties on the Legislature. Section 1 imposes the duty to encourage the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement by "all suitable means." Section 5 imposes the duty to provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district. The Court found that the first duty is general and aspirational, but makes no provision for how the Legislature is to achieve its goal except to use "all suitable means." The Court also concluded that Section 5 is more concrete, but does not delineate or identify any specific outcome standards to be achieved. In addition, the Court declined to find an implicit right to an education of "some quality." Thus, it held that Sections 1 and 5 do not require the attainment of any standard of resulting educational quality.
The Court also considered the argument that the Legislature's current allocation of funds for education are insufficient to provide all public school students with an opportunity to meet proficiency standards set by the Legislature, and therefore do not comply with article IX. The Court considered a 1970s California Supreme Court decision. While the decision found that the 1970s system of financing, which was heavily dependent on local property tax, denied students equal protection, it found that there is no constitutional mandate for the Legislature "to provide funds for each child in the State at some magic level to produce either an adequate-quality educational program or a high-quality educational program." The Court therefore affirmed the lower court's judgments dismissing the claims.
Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 896.