In a case some believe could establish a legal precedent for school vouchers, the mother of a 13-year-old student attending a state university is suing California for not providing her son a free education according to law.
Levi Clancy of Los Angeles began walking at 5 months and was reading high school-level books in two languages at age 5. He enrolled at Santa Monica Community College at 7 and last month entered the University of California at Los Angeles.
His mother Leila Levi, a single parent, says she cannot afford the more than $9,000 it costs to attend UCLA each year and filed a lawsuit Friday in Sacramento Superior Court. She argues her son is of mandatory attendance age, and the California constitution requires he be provided a free education.
Having the state pay for his tuition at UCLA is the only possible remedy, insists Leila Levi’s attorney Richard Ackerman.
“You can’t send him back to public school, because they don’t have the means to educate a kid this gifted,” he told WND. “The only way his intellectual needs can be met is if he goes to a high-level, four-year college.”
California must give Clancy a free and equal opportunity to an education, which is a fundamental interest of the state spelled out in the constitution, Ackerman contends.
Also, he noted, if the boy is not in school, he is regarded as truant.
In 2000, at age 9, Clancy passed the California High School Proficiency exam. But Ackerman pointed out the boy technically was not allowed to take the test because it requires a student be at least 16.
Levi noted the diploma only demonstrates ability level; under California law her son still must be in school until age 16.
“The only way they can help this kid is to give him money to go to college,” Ackerman said.
He acknowledges UCLA already is subsidized by the state, but he argues state statistics show each school district is apportioned a minimum of $7,200 per student.
That’s where vouchers come in, Ackerman says; a concept tried and heavily opposed by teacher’s unions in some locales around the country. The few voucher systems in place generally offer parents a choice as to where their child’s allotment is applied, including the option of private school.
The complaint says if Clancy is “unable to attend a university appropriate to his learning needs, he and his mother will be forced to violate the law and will continue to be deprived of their rights without sufficient process of law.”
The California Department of Education did not return a call from WND seeking comment.
The complaint also is based on a citizen’s right to equal protection under the California constitution, arguing “the truancy statutes, the failure to provide an adequate education suited to the needs of gifted children, and the overall failure of California schools to meet the needs of gifted children unfairly, unequally, and unreasonably” singles out Clancy and others in a similar situation, requiring them to “shoulder the burden of finding a suitable education that will meet their individualized needs.”
In 1999, Levi filed an unsuccessful discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, asserting her son has suffered at the hands of the California Department of Education, the Los Angeles Unified School District and Santa Monica Community College.
Levi said the civil rights office advised that California is obligated only to provide age-appropriate education.
“If we are going to pick and choose which children are entitled to an education, we need to make it clear,” she told WND.