Williams “Report Card”

LOS ANGELES — Today, the ACLU of California celebrates the nine-year anniversary of the historic Williams settlement with the release of a report, “Williams v. California: Lessons From Nine Years of Implementation.” The report examines the continuing impact of Williams, a class-action lawsuit filed in 2000 by the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocates, and other civil rights organizations, along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, on behalf of public school students in California. The case argued that the state and its agencies were denying thousands of students their fundamental right to an education by failing to provide them with the basic tools necessary for a student to learn: clean, safe and functional school facilities; enough textbooks for all students; and teachers who are trained and qualified for the classes and students they teach.

The findings, based on data from the lowest-performing 30 percent of California schools, reveal that the standards and accountability systems established by the 2004 Williams settlement have significantly improved conditions in schools throughout the state. Specifically, the report finds that:

  • More schools have teachers who are qualified for the classes and students they teach. In 2005-2006, 29 percent of teachers in California’s low-performing schools were misassigned, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. By 2010-2011, that figure dropped to 13 percent. The improvement is largely attributable to increased efforts to ensure English Learner students are taught by appropriately trained and assigned teachers.
  • School facilities are reportedly cleaner, safer and more functional. In the first four years of Williams’ implementation, county offices of education found 11 to 13 percent of low-performing schools had unsafe facility conditions. By 2012-2013, that figure dropped to 4 percent, even as most school facility officials expressed strong concerns about the future impact of disinvestment in facilities maintenance.
  • More schools provide sufficient instructional materials and textbooks. In 2004-2005, 19 percent of low-performing schools did not have enough textbooks to go around; by 2012-2013, only 5 percent of schools in this category lacked sufficient textbooks. Overall, more than 215,000 new textbooks and instructional materials have been distributed to students in low-performing schools across the state, after problems with missing or inadequate materials were identified through Williams site visits.

The documented progress is particularly remarkable in light of the devastating budget cuts in recent years and indicates that the Williams standards have provided a counterbalance against budget pressures to ensure students receive basic necessities for educational opportunity.  Examining trends and data from the past nine years, the report offers insights into the effectiveness of the accountability systems Williams put in place and identifies necessary improvements as California begins to implement its new school finance and accountability system. That system, called the Local Control Funding Formula, reaffirms the State’s commitment to the Williams settlement by establishing compliance with Williams as the first of eight statewide education priorities.

“This report demonstrates why Williams remains the foundation on which California must build to provide every child a high-quality education,” said Brooks Allen, the ACLU of California’s Williams Implementation Attorney. “The settlement has provided millions of students with the basic essentials they need to succeed. Now we must address the challenges identified by educators across the state and heed their lessons.”

Among the top challenges identified in the report is inadequate investment in school facilities. For example, school districts have been waiting for years for the State to deliver more than half of the $800 million promised in the Williams Settlement for “emergency” repairs.

“The State needs to make good on its long-overdue commitment,” said Sally Chung, educational justice research analyst for the ACLU of Southern California and author of the report.  “The longer funding is delayed for emergency repairs, the longer students and staff are exposed to critical dangers. School officials have made it clear that a crisis is looming if preventative steps aren’t taken swiftly.”

Nine years of implementation have led to significant gains, but still more must be done to sustain the progress achieved by Williams and ensure that all students receive the basic necessities of equal educational opportunity. The work continues.