Gov. Jerry Brown has never described it quite this way, but the essence of what he wants to do with many of the new tax dollars from last fall’s Proposition 30 is finish the job begun in 1971 by the Serrano v. Priest decision of the California Supreme Court.
“Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” Brown said as he proposed giving school districts with high concentrations of English-learners, subsidized-lunch students and foster children as much as $5,000 per year over several years for each such student they have, in addition to the “base grant” of $6,800 per year that schools get for every pupil.
Brown’s observation was much like the reasoning of the Serrano decision, which ruled the former prevailing system of school finance a violation of the equal protection clause of the state Constitution. Because Serrano was based on the state Constitution, not the federal one, it has never been seriously challenged in federal appeals courts.
In short, Serrano held that the fact wealthy school districts could spend more than poor ones on each of their pupils was flat-out unfair. At the time the case was filed on behalf of a student in the Baldwin Park School District in 1969, that district spent $577 per year to educate each of them, while Pasadena spent $840 and Beverly Hills $1,232. Those inequalities stemmed directly from differences in property values from district to district...