Ruling may lead to funds to
help kids learn to read
North Country Times
March 7, 2003
A Superior Court ruling on Thursday could
open the door to millions of dollars that could help California's
immigrant children learn how to read.
For some schools in Vista and
Escondido, hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants hang in the
In a lawsuit filed this week in San
Francisco Superior Court, a coalition of parents and civil rights groups accused
top state education officials of unlawfully implementing the federal Reading
First grant program.
The state's policy for handling the grant,
which totals $133 million per year for six years in California,
effectively prevents schools with bilingual programs from collecting the funds,
the plaintiffs argue.
Part of the Reading First grants fund
teacher training and supplemental materials for kindergarten through third
On Thursday, San Francisco Superior Court
Judge Ronald E. Quidachay ruled that the state must justify its eligibility
requirements for the grant program. He set a March 26 hearing date.
"We are extremely pleased with the court's
decision," said Mary Hernandez, a Carlsbad attorney employed by
Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy, one of eight civil rights firms
in the state involved in the lawsuit. "I believe that the state defendants will
not be able to justify their discriminatory actions and that we will continue to
"The state defendants must stop making
backroom political decisions that deny funds and programs to some of our state's
neediest children," she said.
Attorneys for the state Department of
Education would not comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
But state Education Department spokesman
Phil Garcia said the California Reading First Plan adheres to federal
guidelines, which set a goal for students to be able to read at grade level in
English by the end of third grade.
In addition to the state Department of
Education, the lawsuit names the state Board of Education and superintendent of
public instruction as defendants.
On Thursday, attorneys for the state told
Quidachay the state will hold off on distributing Reading First funds until
April 9 at the earliest.
Hernandez said the plaintiffs will ask the
judge to order the state to extend its deadline for applying for Reading First
funds, if eligibility requirements change.
At the heart of the case is a state law that
requires public school students to receive instruction in English unless their
parents sign waivers allowing them to be taught in their native tongue.
For bilingual programs to qualify for
Reading First funds, they must provide up to 2 1/2 hours of English language
instruction every day.
That rule effectively eliminates bilingual
classes from eligibility, said Carlos Ulloa, a reading specialist at
Escondido's Lincoln primary and intermediate schools.
A declaration by Ulloa is included in the
In an interview Thursday, Ulloa said the
state's implementation of Reading First disqualifies Lincoln from netting
up to $300,000 a year for six years.
When he researched the program at the
federal level, Ulloa said he found no mention of restrictions for bilingual
programs. The California Department of Education's Web site presented contrary
information, however, so Ulloa called a federal Department of Education attorney
who oversees Reading First.
In his declaration, Ulloa wrote, the
attorney "told me that (she) had been receiving lots of calls from
California regarding this issue and thought maybe the U.S. Department of
Education might need to give guidance to California on it. When I described the
exclusionary eligibility rules, she also commented that California must like
lawsuits and suggested that it was a lawsuit waiting to happen."
At Vista Unified School District,
Crestview, Grapevine and Bobier schools serve more than 1,000 students in
If future court rulings ease state
restrictions on Reading First funds, the schools could be eligible for annual
grants of up to $100,000 each.
"We're in a wait and see mode right now,"
said Assistant Superintendent Gail Ryan. "They're operating the Reading First
grant like the budget ---- there's nothing that's decisive."
Contact staff writer Adam Kaye at
(760) 943-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.