The Levi Clancy story (and school vouchers)
Levi Clancy and his mom, Leila, are no strangers to political controversy. In 2002, they lobbied the California state legislature to pass a law allowing any student, of any age, to take the state's high school exit exam and be considered a graduate upon passing. The law authorized schools and districts to include community college classes in gifted kids' individual education plans (IEPs) and also to pay for these classes. The legislature passed the law unanimously, but then-Gov. Gray Davis vetoed it, saying it was too expensive (Levi was already attending community college classes by that time).
Four years later, the family is now taking a different approach to gifted advocacy. They are suing the state to create a mandate for vouchers to be offered to gifted students whose needs cannot be met in the normal K-12 schools. The case was argued before the California First District Court of Appeals in Sacramento yesterday. Leila's attorneys are arguing that she cannot afford to pay tuition at UCLA, and Levi Clancy needs the rigor of a 4-year college program. You can read a press release on the case here.
I have a lot of sympathy for the case. I'm in favor of school vouchers generally, not just for highly gifted kids. As a practical matter, even if California's taxpayers fully funded Levi Clancy's $9,000 UCLA education, they'd be saving money, as the per pupil attendance funding for the Los Angeles Unified School District is about $12,000. There's a good equal protection argument to be made that California residents are entitled to 13 years of education at public expense, wherever that education is obtained. Some California students with disabilities attend private schools at public expense because their local schools can't meet their needs. This case is also about a child with special needs.
On the other hand, I don't like the idea of using the courts to force issues that certainly can be decided democratically. Given how much support Leila Levi's lobbying efforts found in the California legislature a few years ago, going that route might be worth another try. California has a different governor these days, one who might be more amenable to a voucher plan for gifted kids. I understand the impulse to use the courts on both the left (witness the various cases about adequate school funding making their way through the courts) and the right (vouchers). It's clean and decisive (if not necessarily quick). But in my opinion -- and I realize a lot of blog readers will disagree -- solutions for gifted kids will enjoy broader support if they're obtained democratically than if they're forced on a state by the courts.