Wednesday, October 25, 2006

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.


Anonymous said...

A legal decision by the courts is every bit as democratic as a legislative action. Our courts are one pillar of our democracy, charged with interpreting the laws. Nothing undemocratic about that.

Anonymous said...

I think that the advocacy efforts for children with special needs at the other end of the spectrum has already proven that in this country you MUST use the legal system to get noticed. Even today, with IDEA in place and regularly revised/renewed and all the legal guidelines for special education, that population still has many cases going to due process on a regular basis because even WITH the laws children are not served appropriately.
I have to agree with the previous post. A legal decision IS a democratic action. And if it gets the point across and serves a purpose, great. Precedent means a lot in this country.

Quiltsrwarm said...

The State of Ohio has had a long-running (over 10 years now) legal and legislative battle to adequately and equally fund public schools. The court system can only do so much, though. Our State Supreme Court has THREE TIMES struck down Ohio's method of funding schools and directed the legislature to change it, found the legislature in contempt, etc... Has the court been able to compel the legislature to do anything? Nope.

The court has only empty threats at its disposal, their rulings have no teeth as far as the legislature is concerned. As a result, the Ohio State legislature continues to hmmm and haw about this Supreme Court directive to fund the schools equitably. NO one involved in this issue can agree on just how much it costs to adequately fund a child's education. So, nothing has been done and the courts have forbid the group who originally filed the suit to refile anything.

I don't agree that working with legislatures always gets the job done and neither will working only with the courts. It really does come down to grass-roots efforts and voters who care enough about kids' educations to vote-in people who also care to get the job done and who respect the wishes of our judicial system. All children, including gifteds, suffer at the lack of action on both the legislature and justice levels. When the executive branch of our State government has also washed his hands of the issue by putting off making any decisions or directives other than to establish yet another committee to study "school funding," what does that say about the value of education in our state?

It is unfortunate, but some states just put a higher priority on education than others, so working with those states' legislatures to get a job done is a lot easier. Some states' legislatures are more responsive to legal rulings and legislate based on those. But I'm sure there are many more states, such as Ohio, who would prefer to keep out of school funding and leave it up to local property owners to worry about. It is a complicated issue, much more complicated than simply taking your state to court.

Edspresso said...

I have a few questions for you. Can you e-mail me at rboots at allianceforschoolchoice dot org? Thanks!