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February 21, 2024
Media Contact: Sumeet Bal, Director of Communications, sbal[at]publicadvocates.org, 917.647.1952


Civil Rights Law Firm, Community Organizations Demand State End Unconstitutional School Bond Funding Before 2024 Statewide Ballot Measure; Threaten Legal Action

San Francisco–Today Public Advocates, a non-profit civil rights law firm, pro bono counsel Goodwin Procter LLP, and impacted students, families, residents, and grassroots community organizations from across the state demanded the state end its highly discriminatory system for funding school facilities or face a lawsuit challenging this fall’s anticipated state school construction bond. Students, parents and district personnel shared stories and evidence at a virtual press conference to explain why California’s system of public school facility funding is inequitable and maintains an unconstitutional status quo—giving more money to wealthier districts who already have financial advantages over lower-wealth districts. Attorneys for the complainants followed the event with a demand letter to the governor, and various state officials and agencies, urging them to end grossly unequal and unconstitutional disparities in California’s school facility funding program. The letter outlined immediate reforms that state leadership should use to create a revised equitable funding structure that supports districts most in need.

“The discriminatory design of the state’s facility funding system is no accident. Lower-wealth districts have received nearly 60% less in state modernization funding than higher-wealth districts since 1998. Study after study has acknowledged the open secret here: Some districts get to build swimming pools and performing arts centers, while others suffer through leaky roofs and black mold,” said John Affeldt, Managing Attorney & Director of Education Equity for Public Advocates. “Low-wealth districts exist for any variety of reasons in California, all outside the control of the individual affected students. Whether the low-wealth derives from the geography of untaxed public and tribal lands in Del Norte or from historic redlining and freeway construction in Lynwood, this kind of discriminatory system has no place in California. A just system will need to be much more attuned to ensuring the small, the rural, the poor and the needy district can equally provide clean, safe, modern facilities in good repair to all its students.”

Studies show that school facilities impact student engagement, learning, school climate, and health. School modernization needs, such as updating HVAC systems, repairing leaking roofs, upgrading electrical systems, and replacing old portables are considerable across the state—especially because California has not issued a state bond for school facilities since 2016. School facility modernization needs disproportionately impact low-income communities of color who historically have had less resources to modernize their facilities and, as such, often disproportionately experience greater levels of disrepair.

“Del Norte county is the most northern county in the state with a small population and tax base. The funding distribution of state money makes me feel as though our community is an afterthought,” said Briannon “Brie” Fraley, Del Norte Unified School District Parent, Citizen of Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, True North Organizing Network Parent Leader, and complainant. “We live in a temperate rainforest and this requires facilities and infrastructure that can withstand harsh weather conditions. But we are not receiving equitable resources to maintain a healthy and safe space for our children to learn and grow. That’s why I am asking for an equitable funding allocation of statewide resources and for decision makers to see the disparities and the impacts the current school facility funding model is having on our children, and community.”

“Lynwood is a vibrant and culturally rich community, but sits within an area that was strategically underinvested and under-resourced. It was also subject to a long-standing practice of bifurcating Black and Brown communities with highways, subjecting us to lower assessed property values and environmental challenges. With this in mind, we must address the long-standing inequitable policies that we see, including school facility funding,” said Dr. Gary Hardie, Jr., Lynwood resident, Lynwood Unified School District (LUSD) alum and current parent, LUSD Board Member, and complainant. “As a parent, you want the best for your children and other students–no dilapidated buildings, no crumbling structures. But we have not addressed the equity, access, and justice with respect to our school facilities funding needs. Not because we don’t care, not because we don’t work hard, not because we don’t fight everyday for our young people. But we’re up against policies that prevent us from doing the best for our community. We must fix the current funding model.”

California’s system of funding school facility modernization projects through local and state bonds is based on district wealth. Not only do low-wealth school districts have less access to local bond revenue compared to their wealthier neighbors, but they also have less access to state modernization bonds as a result. The current system is structured to provide all districts with a 60% state match, regardless of need, thereby advantaging wealthier districts which have exponentially greater ability to raise local funds, which in turn are matched by the state in greater amounts. Districts with lower capital spending and smaller tax bases report higher levels of facility deficiencies, which directly impacts the quality of education. The result is an unequal system in which students in low-wealth districts receive an education inferior to that of their peers in higher-wealth districts in violation of California’s Equal Protection Clause.

“Monterey County’s economy is built by farmworkers and hospitality workers who make poverty wages and cannot afford the high price of housing in Monterey County. As a result, more than 11% of students in the county are unhoused, which is nearly quadruple the state average,” said Alma Cervantes, Director of Education Equity and Justice for Building Healthy Communities – Monterey, and complainant. “Schools are the environment and physical space where our students go to feel safe and obtain the support and resources they need. But, our current system is rooted in historical racism and continues to undermine the upward mobility of the most impoverished communities. I urge our state to shift the current school facility funding practice so that schools with the most underserved students can obtain an equitable education that they are entitled to.”

Complainants are calling on state leadership to take immediate action to remedy this unconstitutional school facility funding system and significantly modify the state’s modernization program during the current legislative term in advance of the November bond measure or face legal action.

“During the summer in San Bernardino, temperatures can reach up to 115 degrees, but the air conditioning in our schools wouldn’t work. As a student, it’s almost impossible to focus in these conditions. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate, because you’d be sweating,” said Angel Orozco, San Gorgonio High School Class of ‘23 (San Bernardino City Unified School District), ICUC Youth Leader, and complainant. “Our high school had one laboratory, which meant that teachers had to negotiate when they could use the room, and so my exposure to lab-based science was limited. I believe that if my school had received the funding it needed to build new facilities or modernize current ones, current students–like my younger siblings–wouldn’t have to face these conditions. Our district is doing the best they can with the funding they receive, but the funding they receive isn’t enough–and it’s not equitable at all. I urge our state to do the right thing, and make school facility funding equitable for all students across the state.”

“Through our demand letter, what we’re hoping to do is to bring change to increase educational equality for everyone, to improve opportunities for kids that are in racially diverse and lower socioeconomic communities, and to improve outcomes throughout California. We want California to rank much higher than other states in Pre-K to 12 education, and one way to do it is by causing the types of change we’re advocating for here,” said Neel Chatterjee, Intellectual Property Partner at Goodwin.


Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing, transportation equity, and climate justice.

About Goodwin We are in the business of building authentic, long-term relationships with our clients, who are some of the world’s most successful and innovative investors, entrepreneurs and disruptors at the convergence of and within the life sciences, private equity, real estate, technology and financial industries. Our immersive understanding of these industries — combined with our expertise across high-stakes litigation and dispute resolution, world-class regulatory compliance and advisory services, and complex transactions — sets us apart. To learn more about our global law firm, please visit www.goodwinlaw.com.

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