January 30, 2004

Lawsuit Settlement Brings Major Changes to State’s Implementation of Federal Reading First Program

Immigrant children enrolled in some of the state’s poorest school districts will now have access to millions of dollars to help them learn to read

San Francisco -As a result of a settlement reached in the lawsuit (Pazmino v. Calif. State Board of Education) filed on behalf of immigrant children, parents, teachers and nonprofit educational organizations throughout the state, California’s State Board of Education has agreed to dramatically alter its implementation of the “Reading First” program. “Reading First” is a program funded under the federal “No Child Left Behind Act” aimed at helping the state’s most vulnerable children achieve grade level in reading by the end of third grade.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, President of Californians Together, a statewide education coalition, expressed her relief that after almost two years of exclusion, “teachers of some of the neediest children in the State’s poorest schools will finally have the opportunity to receive comprehensive professional development training in a time when teachers need this help the most.”

The suit was filed in March 2003 in San Francisco Superior Court by a diverse group of parents, teachers and nonprofit groups from throughout the state, including Californians Together, Parents for Unity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Comite Pro Educación, Excellence and Justice in Education, Frente Indigena Oaxaqueño Binacional, California Association for Bilingual Education, and California Latino Civil Rights Network. The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META), California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.(CRLA), Public Interest Law Firm, Youth Law Center and MALDEF. The lawsuit charged that the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent were unlawfully implementing the Reading First program in a way that excluded English Learner students enrolled in alternative bilingual programs from accessing any of the $133 million that the federal government will annually provide to California over the next six years.

The Settlement Agreement will require the State defendants to: fund alternative bilingual programs under Reading First; ensure that an appropriate agency provides technical assistance, translates end-of-year assessments, and develops materials for professional development for the instructional materials used in alternative bilingual classrooms; and appoint an expert on English Learner issues to the body charged with advising the State concerning Reading First implementation.

META attorney Deborah Escobedo, stated: “The Settlement Agreement confirms what we have been saying all along: that No Child Left Behind doesn’t require the State Board to exclude alternative bilingual classrooms from participation in Reading First and that the State Board’s actions to do so were inappropriate and harmful to the children enrolled in those programs.”

CRLA attorney Cynthia Rice, stated: “Although we are very pleased that this matter is being settled, it is extremely unfortunate that so many resources had to be expended to ensure that non-English-speaking children enrolled in some of our poorest school districts could have access to a federally funded program, specifically targeted to help them learn to read.”

Eva Pacheco, a parent member of Excellence and Justice in Education, stated: “As immigrant parents, it is extremely important to us that our children not be denied access to programs like Reading First, because they don’t speak English, and because we decide to exercise our rights under Proposition 227 to choose an educational program best suited to our children’s needs.”

In response to the lawsuit, Assembly Members Firebaugh, Goldberg and Yee co-sponsored AB 1485. This bill, effective as of January 1, 2004, prohibits the State Board of Education from excluding alternative bilingual classrooms from Reading First and prioritizes approximately $13 million of increased Reading First funds for bilingual classrooms.

Californians Together is a statewide coalition comprised of groups of parents, teachers, and education advocates and civil rights groups committed to bringing equal access and rights of children to quality education. For more information visit:  www.californianstogether.org.

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