Frequently Asked Questions

Right to Literacy1. What do you want to get from this lawsuit? We are asking the State of California to give Plaintiffs access to literacy by (1) ensuring that they are provided with proven programs for literacy instruction and intervention, and (2) ensuring that schools provide conditions that enable students access to literacy, including appropriately supported teachers, opportunities for parental engagement in literacy education, and conditions that enable readiness to learn.

2. What is literacy? At its most basic, literacy is the ability to read, write, and comprehend.  The state’s Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Plan (SRCL), [1] defines literacy as “an individual's ability to read, write, speak in English, compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual and in society.”

3. Is literacy is the same thing as education? Literacy is the basic building block of all education. Access to literacy is our society’s essential precondition for social mobility and participation in higher education, the workforce, and the activities of democratic citizenship. Literacy is what permits a student to access knowledge and communicate with the world. Without literacy, students cannot access any subjects, not only the humanities: students cannot take a math test with word problems or read the instructions for their chemistry experiment.

4. Shouldn’t kids know how to read by third grade? Of course. School-based literacy instruction must begin in kindergarten, and students in the early grades make critical steps in developing their literacy skills. But literacy instruction cannot end there. The basic literacy skills developed in the early grades do not automatically evolve into higher-level literacy skills necessary for middle school, high school, and beyond. Adolescents need to receive direct and explicit instruction in developing strategies of comprehension, fluency, vocabulary development, and word study, and they need to be motivated to engage with reading by having access to interesting, relevant texts and reading-related social interactions.

5. Why are you suing the state instead of the schools or the school district? It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that all children in California have equal access to education. The state is ultimately responsible for complying with the California Constitution.  It is well established by the California Supreme Court that the state bears the “ultimate responsibility for public education [that] cannot be delegated to any other entity.” Butt v. State of California, 4 Cal. 4th 668, 681 (1992)

6. Doesn’t California have enough problems without another lawsuit? This lawsuit should not be necessary, and our hope is that it will be resolved right away. But Governor Brown and other state officials acknowledged five years ago that there is an “urgent need” to address the literacy needs of the state’s students. In its SRCL Plan, the state admitted that “[s]tatewide assessment data indicate that there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations, specifically English learners, students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and African-American and Hispanic students.”   The state’s experts warned that “[t]he critical need to address the literacy development of California children and students cannot be underestimated. . . . [M]any students will be at academic risk if improved approaches to literacy instruction are not an immediate and central focus of California’s educational system.”  Despite this acknowledgment and clear warning, the state nonetheless failed to create a system that ensures that every student has access to literacy.

California’s students have no more time to lose. Every day, week, month, or year of education that they miss harms their future educational and career prospects and contributes to the feeling of being a second-class citizen. The problem is not the lawsuit but the conditions affecting students that made the lawsuit necessary.

7. Who is going to pay for all of this? As a matter of dollars and cents, the cost of investing in children by providing them the opportunity to attain literacy is far less expensive than the cost to the children’s futures, the families, their communities, and ultimately, the State of California. The worst investment the state can make is the denial of access to literacy. The economic future of California depends on children becoming educated, productive members of the workforce and full participants in the city’s democratic processes. In addition, the state must ensure that California schools have the resources they need to provide access to literacy to all children.

8. Are you asking the Court to tell the schools how to teach literacy? No. We are asking the Court to order the state to ensure that schools use evidence-based practices to teach literacy. The state’s own experts developed one such plan in the California Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Plan (SRCL). [2] Numerous literacy interventions have been proven to be effective and are collected in the federal Department of Education’s “What Works Clearinghouse.”

9. Whose fault is this? The State of California has denied students their fundamental right to education by failing to ensure that Plaintiffs’ schools give them access to literacy equal to that of other children in the state. California’s teachers have heroically done the best they could do with inadequate resources and without adequate training and support. California’s students, families, and community organizations have also made extraordinary efforts to provide California children with access to literacy.

10. Where does it say in the California Constitution that young people have a right to access literacy? The California Constitution guarantees every child a basic education. The California Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that all California students possess a constitutional right to “equal access to a public education system that will teach them the skills they need to succeed as productive members of modern society.”  Hartzell v. Connell, 35 Cal. 3d 899, 906-09 (1984); see also Serrano I¸ 5 Cal. 3d at 608-09; Piper v. Big Pine Sch. Dist., 193 Cal. 664; O’Connell v. Superior Court, 141 Cal. App. 4th 1452, 1482 (2006).  This means that schools cannot provide students with a program of education that “falls fundamentally below prevailing statewide standards.”  Butt v. State of California, 4 Cal. 4th 668, 686-87 (1992). The fundamental right to even the most basic of educations means nothing if it does not also guarantee the right to access literacy, as the State of California has itself recognized. Thus, while this is the first state civil rights action seeking recognition of the fundamental right of access to literacy under a state constitution, it is solidly grounded in decades of California precedent.

11. Is this case trying to attack the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)? No. This case is not about funding or the state’s funding system (the LCFF).  Rather, this case is about the state’s responsibility to ensure that all students receive access to literacy. It seeks to vindicate the rights of schoolchildren protected by the state’s constitution.

12. Will this problem be solved if LCFF is properly funded? No. The state has long failed to ensure that students, particularly students of color and low-income students, have access to literacy. The problem has not improved since LCFF was adopted. In any event, the state has been aware of the literacy crisis for at least half a decade and has not taken steps to remedy the situation. California cannot afford to have any more children be deprived of a basic education. That said ensuring that LCFF funding is properly distributed to schools that serve targeted populations, such as English Learners, low-income students, and foster youth, is critical to schools, like Plaintiffs’ schools, with high populations of such students.

13. Is this a pro-charter or anti-charter case? Neither. This case is not ideological. Far too many students in California charter schools are being deprived of access to literacy as much as their counterparts in traditional public schools. The state is responsible for providing access to literacy to students in all public schools, both traditional schools and charter schools. This case includes Plaintiffs who attend a charter school who have been denied access to literacy and seeks to hold the state accountable for the students at charter schools just as much as students at traditional schools.


[1] Glen Thomas et al., California Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Plan: A Guidance Document (2012), https://tinyurl.com/SRCLP.

[2] Id.

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