Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Access to Quality Education

The Context

Public education is a vital interest of our state in that it provides Californians with the capacity, knowledge, and skills to sustain our system of government, foster a thriving economy, and provide the foundation for a harmonious society. As the global technological economy continues to evolve, Californians require additional, challenging educational opportunities throughout their lives. Today, students enter, exit, and re-enter the education system at various points of their lives, bringing increasingly diverse learning needs to each classroom. To be responsive to Californians' needs, our state must have a comprehensive, coherent, and flexible education system in which all sectors, from pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education, are aligned and coordinated into one integrated system.

A commonly shared belief is that a primary purpose of education is to promote learning. Success in meeting this purpose results in individuals' possessing the knowledge and skills to sustain a democratic society and a desired quality of life. Those important results for citizens and for California society at large provide a compelling rationale for state support of public schools, colleges, and universities. The additional components of California's rationale for supporting its comprehensive education system include:

Historical Perspective

California's commitment to public education was clear by the time of the second constitutional convention, in 1879. Article IX of the revised Constitution read, "A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement"by providing "a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept each district..." By 1879, the Legislature had enacted a compulsory attendance law for the state's youth. The State also supported a 'normal school' to prepare teachers for the common schools, and the Constitution established the University of California as a public trust.

A clear set of principles led to the development of the public education system. California's founders believed that the benefits of education would be realized not just by each individual, but by the public as a whole. They further believed that the many benefits to society would be obtained only if all citizens were educated. They held that the only way to assure that this vital public interest would be met for all citizens was for the State itself to provide education, through local school districts, at public expense.

While California's commitment to educating its people encompasses all levels of education, a crucial distinction exists between the State's obligations regarding elementary and secondary, as distinct from preschool, adult, and postsecondary education. The California State Supreme Court has ruled, in its decisions on Serrano (1976) and Butt (1990), that the California State Constitution provides a fundamental right to an elementary and secondary education. This fundamental right (also referred to as a fundamental interest of citizens of the state) derives from several provisions of California's constitution and statutes, taken together: Article IX of the Constitution, Sections 1 and 5, which obligate the State to provide a system of free common schools; the Constitution's equal protection provisions, Article I, Section 7, and Article IV, Section 16; and Education Code Section 48200, imposing compulsory attendance. As a corollary of Californians' fundamental right, the State incurs a fundamental obligation to sustain that right, which receives the highest order of legal protections. The State and its schools are required to equitably provide appropriate educational opportunities to all students.

Postsecondary education, though not constitutionally guaranteed to Californians, is nevertheless provided universally to our people. Californians clearly regard postsecondary education as a vital interest, essential to sustaining economic vitality, and throughout our history have demonstrated this deep commitment by supporting a set of affordable public colleges and universities as ultimately defined in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. Participation in postsecondary education is voluntary, however, and not constitutionally guaranteed to be free of charge. As a result of these differences, postsecondary education does not incur the same order of legal obligations for the State as does K-12 education. Correspondingly, postsecondary education also is not subject to many of the strictures that apply to the K-12 system. These distinctions will require that, even in a cohesive Master Plan for Education, certain components be treated differently among the sectors of California's education system.

Although no constitutional guarantee or statutory commitment has previously existed for California's preschool-age children, our state has a profound interest in making available to all families who desire them the early education opportunities that support a child's emotional, social, physical, linguistic, and cognitive development. A critical element of the learning process is a child's readiness to learn. Just as experiences at each earlier grade have an impact on a child's preparedness for success at the next level of education, there are factors that promote children's readiness to succeed in their first experiences in school. Early childhood education and development in pre-kindergarten settings can provide the socialization and coping skills, and the developing literacy and numeracy skills, that lead to these successes.