Issue: Education
Topic: More Education Work
Status: Inactive
Project Date: May 17, 2000

Winning students’ rights to decent school facilities, adequate educational materials, and trained teachers!


On May 17, 2000 — the 46th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education — the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocates, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other civil rights organizations, along with Morrison & Foerster LLP, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of public school students against the State of California.  The case argued that the state and its agencies were denying thousands of California students their fundamental right to an education under the California Constitution by failing to provide them with the basic tools necessary for that education. On August 13, 2004, the lawsuit was settled, marking a major victory for students’ rights.

The Williams suit highlighted the fact that the state operated thousands of classrooms without enough textbooks for students; provided school facilities that were overcrowded, in disrepair, and unhealthy for students; and employed many under-trained teachers in California public schools.  The case was premised on two basic principles: 1) The State of California is responsible to ensure that all students have the basic resources they need to learn—qualified teachers, sufficient textbooks and instructional materials, and decent facilities; and 2) All students have a fundamental right to an education that must be provided to all students on equal terms.  The case argued that California’s public education system failed on both of these counts: it did not give all students the necessary educational resources and it allowed unequal opportunities to persist across schools.  Williams called on the state to create standards for basic educational materials, a system of management and oversight, and accountability so schools live up to these standards.

On August 13, 2004, after more than four years of litigation, the parties announced a settlement agreement.  Six weeks later, on September 29, 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law five bills implementing the legislative proposals set forth in the Settlement Agreement, and they took effect immediately.  The settlement embodies the central principles of the plaintiffs’ case and includes significant changes to California’s education laws.

The Settlement

The Williams Settlement Legislation established new standards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that all California public school students have textbooks and instructional materials and that their schools are clean, safe, and functional.  It also took steps toward assuring all students have qualified teachers. The Settlement holds the state accountable for delivering these fundamental elements and provides approximately $1 billion to accomplish these goals.  The Settlement also phases out the use of the Concept 6 multi-track, year-round school calendar by 2012.

For All Schools:
The new standards and many of the accountability systems established by theWilliams Settlement apply to all California public schools. Each and every student has a right to “sufficient textbooks,” a school in “good repair,” and a qualified teacher.  All districts must perform self-evaluations to ensure compliance with the textbook and facilities standards. Further, the overall condition of facilities, the availability of textbooks and instructional materials, and the number of teacher mis-assignments and teacher vacancies must be reported in annual School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) that are made available to all parents and the public. The Settlement Legislation also created a new Uniform Complaint Process for parents, students, teachers, and others to use to ensure that all schools and districts meet the new standards and provide sufficient instructional materials, qualified teachers, and safe, healthy school facilities.

For the Lowest-Performing Schools:
Under the Williams settlement, the lowest performing schools in the state—the schools ranked in deciles one to three on the Academic Performance Index (API)—receive additional funds and oversight.  Pursuant to the Settlement Legislation, the State of California is providing $800 million to pay for emergency repairs in these “decile 1-3 schools.” In the first year of implementation, districts received $25 million to conduct comprehensive assessments of the facility conditions and needs in these schools, and $138 million for new instructional materials for students attending schools ranked in the lowest two API deciles.

County Superintendents provide additional oversight over decile 1-3 schools, conducting annual visits and reviews to determine compliance with the new instructional materials and facilities standards and to determine whether the school’s School Accountability Report Card (SARC) accurately reports these data. The Settlement Legislation also requires County Superintendents to annually monitor, review, and report on teacher assignments and teacher vacancies in decile 1-3 schools. County Superintendents report the results of their annual visits and reviews to each school district’s governing board on a quarterly basis and submit an annual report in November to the governing board of each school district, the county board of education, and the county board of supervisors of his/her county, describing the state of decile 1-3 schools in the county.

Read about the impact of the Williams settlement:

Williams v. California: A Progress Update (May 29, 2009) (courtesy of the ACLU of Southern California)
Williams v. California: The Statewide Impact of Two Years of Implementation (August 13, 2007)
The Williams v. California Settlement: The First Year of Implementation (December 15, 2005)

Read how students and parents across California are using the Williams complaint process to improve their schools

Your Schools, Your Rights, Your Power: A Grassroots Guide to Effective Williams Campaigns (April 2009)


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