Update on CQE v. California

On August 22, 2016, in a disappointing 4-3 vote, the California Supreme Court denied plaintiff’s petition for review in our state school funding case, CQE v. California.  The decision leaves in place a court of appeal ruling saying there is no state constitutional guarantee of any level of educational quality or minimum funding to support education.

Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar wrote lengthy dissents that foreshadow the likelihood that this issue will return to the court in a few years’ time if conditions do not improve. 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 his dissent, Justice Cuellar concluded that “It is especially important for California’s highest court to speak on this issue.  Our state educates one-eighth of all public school students in the country. . . . Many of those kids who come from low-income families find themselves concentrated in particular schools or districts that, despite the best intentions, fail to deliver an education remotely worthy of the students they are serving.  These realities make it all the more critical that the representative branches play the crucial role that belongs to them, but with greater clarity about the scope of the right to education –– clarity only this court can provide.”

As the dissents of Justices Goodwin Liu and Tino Cuellar further point out, California is near last nationally in school spending, the number of staff in its schools, and in academic performance.   Our public education system is failing far too many students and the state, yet the Court allowed this travesty to continue without allowing a trial to proceed  that would emphatically demonstrate the state’s widespread inadequate educational opportunities.  The Court’s action conflicts with a majority of the decisions of the more than 30 high court rulings in other states addressing their constitution’s education right.  In those cases, most high courts have chosen to act and have found that a right to a meaningfully adequate education does exist.

We are somewhat heartened by Justice Liu’s reminder that the high court’s failure to act, only puts off to a future day the possibility that the same issue will arise again before the Supreme Court.  Should the state’s education system continue to stagnate or worsen—as is likely the case given the state’s paltry investment in its education system, we will continue to press this issue.  The plaintiff community organizations in the case—including the Campaign for Quality Education, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Californians for Justice, and PICO California—as well as Public Advocates, are committed to ensuring the right to an education in California is one that meaningfully prepares students for college, career and civic participation.


During the Summer of 2010, five grassroots organizations with a membership of nearly 500,000 California families (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Californians for Justice, the Campaign for Quality Education,PICO California, and the San Francisco Organizing Project), and 22 individual students and parents, filed Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California in Alameda Superior Court. The plaintiffs are represented by Public Advocates, Arnold & Porter, and Munger Tolles & Olson. Our plaintiffs claim that the State’s failure to adequately and equitably fund its schools so that all students have a reasonable opportunity to obtain a meaningful education that prepares them for college, career, and civic engagement is a violation of their fundamental right to education under the California Constitution’s Education and Equal Protection Clauses. The named defendants are the State of California, the Governor, the Director of the Department of Finance, and the State Controller.

We are asking the Court to:

  1. Declare the current funding system unconstitutional and
  2. Order the State to create a new school funding system that is aligned to the actual costs of preparing students for civic, economic, and social success and that takes into account the learning needs of low-income and English learner students.

In addition to more money, we are asking for fundamental reform so that existing and additional funds will be more effectively spent. Some foundational policies that would support efficient spending include an adequate data system, policies to support teacher development, evaluation and effectiveness, and access to preschool for all low-income children.

Despite claims to the contrary, we are not asking the court to mandate a particular school finance system, order specific allocation methods, or determine the amount of money that the State should spend on K-12 public education, but would leave those decisions up to the Governor and Legislature as they work to implement a court judgment.

For more information about the case and our grassroots outreach efforts, watch this video, visit the CQE v. California web site and join CQE v. California on Facebook.

A parallel suit filed by the California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), California State PTA, nine individual school districts, as well as numerous individual students and parents, raises similar legal claims. The California Teachers Association has intervened in the Robles-Wong suit.

CQE v. California and Robles-Wong v. California proceeded together in Alameda Superior Court before Judge Steven Brick. On January 14, 2011, the trial court dismissed Plaintiffs’ adequacy claim, declaring that the State’s funding system cannot be challenged under the Education Clause (Article IX) of the California Constitution. Under this ruling no set of facts, no matter how egregious, can sustain a claim that the school funding system is depriving students of their right to an education guaranteed by Article IX. On July 26, 2011, the trial court sustained Defendants’ demurrer to Plaintiffs’ amended complaints, rejecting Plaintiffs’ amended Equal Protection arguments.

The CQE and Robles-Wong plaintiffs appealed to the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, where the cases have been consolidated. The California Court of Appeal heard oral arguments on January 27, 2016. On April 20, 2016, the Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the State of California, and plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court is considering the plaintiff’s petition for review and is expected to announce its decision whether or not to review the case by the end of August 2016.

Latest Updates

Recent Press Releases and Advisories

August 22, 2016 – The California Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote, denies our plaintiff’s request to review Campaign for Quality Education v. California. Justices Liu and Cuellar write strong dissents.

Read the full press release

Read statement by John Affeldt

April 20, 2016—The California Court of Appeal rules on Campaign for Quality Education v. California and Robles-Wong v. California.

Read the full press release.

January 27, 2016— The California Court of Appeal heard oral arguments in constitutional challenge to state’s education finance system.

Read the full media advisory

California State Court of Appeals Argument

January 27, 2016—Read the CQE primer regarding the January 2016 California State Court of Appeals argument. This document presents a summary of the schools funding lawsuit CQE v. State of California, including why it is important and the status of the case.

Oral Arguments Scheduled in Major School Funding Lawsuits

January 12, 2016—After a long lull in activity in the lawsuit CQE v. State of California and the related case, Robles-Wong v. California, finally the California State Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments for January 27, 2016 in Superior Court in San Francisco. Read more about the hearing in the press advisory sent out January 12, 2016.

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