California School System: Separate and Unequal

06/02/2010 12:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California has long been a place of unlimited opportunity, where a child of immigrant janitors like myself could work as a teenager cleaning office buildings after school and still have the same aspirations as the children of the people who owned those office buildings.

I was the first in my family to attend or graduate from college, and went on to succeed at Hastings law school, in large part because I attended great public schools, even though we didn't live in wealthy neighborhoods. I'm not talking ancient history here -- I just turned 41-years-old.

This vision of California, sadly, is fast fading from reality. Nowhere is this more evident than in our once proud, now underfunded educational system that is failing to provide all our children equal access to a quality education.

As Attorney General, I will use the tremendous power of that office to help eliminate the archaic and inequitable distribution of education resources that leaves so many of our students falling behind. I would take no pleasure in suing school districts and the legislature to make sure every school in California provides equal opportunities for students until education becomes what it absolutely should be: a civil right. But I would do so if these bodies did not act to protect the fundamental civil rights of California's children.

At this point of crisis, the fastest way to restore opportunity is through the courts. That's exactly how we have achieved historic milestones of progress in our schools, through cases such as the Serrano v. Priest cases of the 1970s, and Brown v. Board of Education before that.

Most California students are suffering. But too much of that suffering is concentrated by a system of funding for schools that is both separate and unequal. State and local funding for schools is distributed inequitably, even within the same county. For example, the Alisal Union District in Monterey County receives only 48% of the per average daily attendance (ADA) funding of Carmel Unified, also in Monterey County.

This is because legislators refuse to walk the line between their wealthy constituents and those in poorer communities. Their logic is understandable, if not terribly flawed. Simply put, rich people vote more often than poor people. So, the legislators rationalize that school districts in wealthy areas deserve more funding than districts in poor areas because that will keep them in office.

But we are fed up with the status quo. Recently, educators, students, parents and school districts filed a lawsuit that seeks to change the way schools are funded. California's educational standards are high, but our system lacks the necessary funding for students to reach them. Turning to the courts to enact real change is our best option.

This "separate but unequal" mentality is categorically antithetical to what California is supposed to symbolize. Our children did not ask to be born rich or to be born poor. They did not ask to be used as pawns in political games. All they ask is for the same chance to fulfill their dreams as everyone else. And there is no price for that.

Learn more about Alberto Torrico's campaign for California Attorney General at: