Frustrated by years of deteriorating education quality in California public schools, a coalition of advocates for students submitted a ballot measure to the Attorney General to create a constitutional right to a high-quality public education.
The Campaign for a High Quality Public Education is aiming for the November 2022 ballot with a measure amending the Constitution to ensure:
- All public school students will have the right to a high-quality public education that provides them with the skills necessary to participate fully in our economy, our democracy and our society.
- Any law, regulation, policy, or official action on public education that does not prioritize the interests of students will be violating this right.
- The right to a high-quality education will only eliminate laws, regulations, policies or official actions that don’t prioritize students. It will not create new policies for additional taxing or spending.
- Any parent or guardian of a public-school student or an organization representing public school students can file a case to ensure the right to a high-quality public education.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, proficiency rates for Black and Hispanic students (who together account for more than 60% of public school enrollments) are far less than half that of white and Asian American students. The gaps have grown wider over time.
The view is no better through the lens of income level. Nearly 60 percent of California public school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, which is a proxy for family income. Of those students, only about one-fifth meet or exceed proficiency for fourth or eighth grade math or reading. The effects of the pandemic are certain to widen this gap.
Sponsors believe that if Californians vote to pass this ballot measure, there would be a profound impact on public education. The constitutional right to a high quality public education would create opportunities to bring about systemic changes that benefit students. The new constitutional right would prioritize students by allowing parents, civil rights groups, and advocates to challenge laws and policies, including:
- Budgets that support a bloated bureaucracy, rather than kids in classrooms.
- High salaries for administrators that could instead be invested for additional nurses, counselors and teaching assistants.
- Schedules, calendars, or reopening plans that serve adults at the expense of children.
- Policies that require school districts to hire and fire teachers based only on seniority and that prohibit them from considering teacher quality in these decisions.
- School or district boundaries that segregate students and hurt communities.
- Budget policies that lead to inequitable funding for schools and large class sizes.
Decades of institutional reform efforts—not to mention increased education outlays—have failed to make consistently high-quality schools available to all students. To remedy this injustice, advocates seek to shift the balance of power away from the education establishment and toward families. If this measure passes, these students and their parents will have a mechanism to force state leaders to focus on improving student outcomes rather than placating special interests.
This is not a new idea. Just this approach is being pioneered in Minnesota, under the leadership of Federal Reserve Board of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari and retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page. Their proposal is now being debated in the Minnesota State Legislature.
Such an amendment can rebalance the power dynamic between adults who run the education system and the students they are supposed to serve. It can provide parents with a seat at the table, enforceable as a constitutional right.
As schools reopen in California, advocates for students and parents have identified a once-in-a-generation reset moment in public education. They believe that the most transformative change for California’s six million students—and especially disadvantaged or marginalized students—would be to ensure all students have a quality education, enforceable as a fundamental constitutional right.