Students in school.
Students in school. (Lisa F. Young)

Pro bono organization Public Counsel has inked two class action settlements that would reinstitute funds to struggling schools and homeless residents in the Los Angeles area affected by California’s budget crisis.

Under one tentative settlement, reached April 3, Los Angeles Unified School District would allocate $60 million in funding over three years to 37 struggling middle schools that suffered unusually high teacher turnover and student dropout rates following layoffs prompted by the budget crisis.

The district’s board of education is expected to vote on the agreement, which needs court approval, at its April 22 meeting. Public Counsel, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Morrison & Foerster, had filed the suit against the district in 2010 in Los Angeles County, Calif., Superior Court on behalf of a class of students at three of those schools, citing violations of their right to equal educational opportunities under California’s constitution.

“The youth in greatest peril at these schools will benefit tremendously from the additional administrative and teacher support provided under this program,” said district superintendent John Deasy, in a prepared statement.

In 2012, California’s 2d District Court of Appeal reversed a previous consent decree in the case based on the objections of the local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which had raised concerns about the impact the deal would have on the seniority rights of its members.

The new settlement allocates funds to pay for more counselors, administrators, teacher training and hiring bonuses to principals—all of which would make the schools more prepared for layoffs in the future, said Dale Larson, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Morrison & Foerster.

“It’s really a comprehensive settlement, more comprehensive than the first settlement,” he said.

On Tuesday, Public Counsel reached another class action settlement on behalf residents of the Los Angeles area, mostly homeless, who claim they were wrongfully denied benefits under a county program beginning on Jan. 1, 2010. The settlement is pending court approval.

The program provides $221 a month in cash to about 100,000 area residents for food, medicine and a few nights of shelter.

Citing due process violations under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution, Public Counsel settled with Los Angeles County the same day it filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. The settlement, according to Public Counsel, will provide a $7.9 million fund to those who were wrongfully sanctioned and make changes to the program.

“The County worked with the advocate community to eliminate ambiguities around sanction policy,” said county spokesman David Sommers.

Assisting Public Counsel in the case was Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Gary Blasi, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; and Inner City Law Center, a legal services organization located on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

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