Settlement reached in literacy lawsuit against California

A settlement was approved last week in Ella T. v. California, ending a lawsuit against the State of California brought on behalf of 10 students attending three elementary schools in the state.

Under the terms of the settlement, subject to approval by the Legislature, the state will provide a block grant of $50 million over three years to support literacy in the 75 California elementary schools with the lowest average reading scores (those, traditional public and charter schools, with the highest percentage of students scoring Level 1 on the third-grade English language arts Smarter Balanced assessment, based on an average of the 2018 and 2019 tests, excluding schools with fewer than 11 test takers), $3 million to hire a state literacy expert to help schools improve literacy outcomes and other discipline-based reforms. The literacy block grants will pay for literacy coaches and instructional aides, professional development for teachers and school leaders, and culturally responsive instructional materials.

The plaintiffs brought the case in 2017, arguing that a literacy crisis existed in plaintiffs’ schools caused by the state’s failure to successfully implement remedies for students’ lack of access to effective literacy instruction. The plaintiffs argued that the lack of access to effective literacy instruction in their schools led to a lack of educational attainment, marginalization and incarceration, a lack of ability to participate in democratic citizenship and a lack of ability to attain economic self-sufficiency.

Plaintiffs claimed that the state had failed to ensure that their schools implement the research-based instruction and intervention programs that the state had proposed; that the state had not ensured an adequate number of well-supported teachers to provide instruction; and that the state had failed to hold charter schools accountable. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked the court to order the state to implement the state’s own literacy remedies, including establishing research-based literacy programs, implementing assessments and interventions, supporting well-trained and highly qualified teachers, implementing practices to promote parent involvement and implementing practices to promote learning readiness.

While the settlement does not establish any precedent nor create any additional rights to access to literacy, and while California continues to fall well behind other states in providing Full and Fair FundingSM to its schools, the settlement may provide important additional opportunities for literacy intervention and improvements in reading outcomes in some of California’s highest-need schools.