The Education Law Center reminds us that the California Supreme Court made the right decision on teacher tenure (Vergara) but passed up a chance to make funding equitable across the state. One would think that there should be a right to go to a public school that is adequately and equitably funded. But not yet.


On August 23, the California Supreme Court denied petitions for review in two cases asking the courts to declare state education laws unconstitutional. Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) and Robles-Wong v. State claimed the state’s school funding system violated the state constitution, and Vergara v. State challenged laws on teacher tenure, dismissal, and seniority.

Education Law Center, joined by civil rights organizations, filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs in both cases, arguing that the Supreme Court deny review — and effectively end — the Vergara tenure case and accept review in CQE Robles-Wong to allow the school funding case to proceed to trial.

In a 4-3 decision in CQE Robles-Wong, the Court denied review of lower court rulings and, instead, affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaints for “fail[ure] to state a claim for which judicial relief may be accorded,” thereby denying plaintiffs a trial on the merits of their claims.

The Court majority denied review without comment. But, three Justices would have accepted the case for review, two of whom wrote strong dissents. In his dissent, Justice Liu wrote,

It is regrettable that this court, having recognized education as a fundamental right in a landmark decision 45 years ago (Serrano v. Priest), should now decline to address the substantive meaning of that right. The schoolchildren of California deserve to know whether their fundamental right to education is a paper promise or a real guarantee.

In Vergara, the Court denied review of the Court of Appeal decision, which found plaintiffs had failed to show a causal connection between the challenged statutes and an alleged inferior educational opportunity. The civil rights brief opposed the Vergara plaintiffs’ claims and explained to the courts that fair and sufficient funding is essential to providing a high quality teacher workforce in California’s school districts. The brief also recounted the expansive research showing that adequate educational resources yield better results for students.

“The California Supreme Court got it right in denying review in Vergara,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and a leading education rights litigator. “The media attention on Vergara, however, overshadowed Robles Wong, a ruling with far more impact on the educational opportunities afforded California’s public school children.”

Mr. Sciarra added that, “in Robles Wong, the Supreme Court allowed an Appellate Court ruling to stand which effectively holds that public school children cannot vindicate their fundamental right to an education under the California constitution in the California courts. The ruling also prevents courts from hearing evidence and deciding on the constitutionality of California’s school finance system — among the most inadequate in the nation.”

California has the largest public education system in the nation, serving over 6 million K-12 students—one in eight U.S. students. Nearly half of those students qualify for federal free and reduced priced lunch, the benchmark for student poverty.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19