Judge Signs off on $50M Lawsuit Settlement to Improve Student Literacy

Two brothers standing in school library

LOS ANGELES (CNS) A judge today approved the settlement of a lawsuit that will establish a $50 million grant program to improve literacy instruction in schools statewide.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rupert Byrdsong's action brought a final resolution to the case filed by the plaintiffs in December 2017. The plaintiffs maintained that the state constitution requires that all public school students have basic reading and writing instruction.

Funding for the settlement of the lawsuit is included in Gov. Newsom's proposed 2020 budget and is subject to approval by the state legislature.

The settlement includes $50 million in block grants for 75 low- performing elementary schools to develop and implement customized three-year literacy action plans. It mandates that block grant recipients push for community engagement and examine the instructional, school climate and other factors that have led to low student achievement.

The resolution additionally calls for moving away from punitive school discipline practices and the issuance of state guidelines to reduce racially disproportionate discipline.

The case was named for ``Ella T.,'' one of 10 students from Los Angeles, Inglewood and Stockton who were listed along with two advocacy organizations as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner released a statement in response to the settlement, saying reading is ``the foundation of learning.''

He said the resolution ``is a step in the right direction, but only a small step'' in the search for improving literacy.

``A generation ago, California's public education system led the nation with well-funded schools serving the needs of the entire community and great student outcomes,'' Beutner said. ``Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. School funding is not stable or adequate and achievement is lagging. Per- pupil funding in Los Angeles has fallen relative to other parts of the country and is now 40% less than in New York.''

Yet, last year there were record-high graduation rates, record-low suspension rates and increases across the board in student achievement, all of which demonstrate that progress is being made, Beutner said.

``There is talent in every seat in every classroom in every one of the 1,386 schools in Los Angeles Unified,'' Beutner said. ``But there is not always opportunity. We've work to do, and the kids are counting on us.''

Plaintiff's attorney Mark Rosenbaum of the Public Counsel law firm said the most urgent struggle for social justice in the U.S. has been access to literacy.

``The right to read is not just the cornerstone of education, it is the cornerstone of our democracy,'' Rosenbaum said. ``Without it, we continue to build a future on the illusion that the `haves' compete on the same terms with the `have nots.'''

Erik Olson, another plaintiffs' lawyer, said the settlement is ``a tremendous victory for the courageous families and community leaders who demanded that the state of California fulfill its obligation to provide every child the opportunity to learn to read.''

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