Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Current and former teachers and students of California's public education system filed a lawsuit against the state Tuesday because too many of its students can't read.
The law firms representing the plaintiffs -- Public Counsel and Morrison & Forster -- said California's State Board of Education, the State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson have violated the state's constitution "for their collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy."
"Public education was intended as the 'great equalizer' in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances. But in California it has become the 'great unequalizer,'" Public Counsel attorney Mark Rosenbaum said in a statement. "Although denial of literacy is the great American tragedy, California is singlehandedly dragging down the nation despite the hard work and commitment of students, families and teachers."
Rosenbaum said 11 of the nation's lowest-performing districts are in California. Although California is the most populated state in the country, New York, with the nation's second-highest population, has only two districts in the bottom 26. And Texas, the third-most populated state, has one.
"In 2017, there is no excuse for every child not learning to read, and reading to learn," Rosenbaum said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include current and former students and teachers at three elementary schools in Los Angeles, Stockton and Inglewood.
At La Salle Elementary in Los Angeles, only eight children out of the 179 students tested were found to be proficient by state standards in 2016-2017, according to Rosenbaum.
The lawsuit calls for better teacher training and more resources.
David Moch, a retired teacher who taught at La Salle Elementary for 18 years until 2014, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He told the Los Angeles Times that he would sometimes use kindergarten reading tools for children as high as the fifth grade. And he said there were no long-term programs implemented to address the problem.
"Once you get behind, if there's no intervention, there's no catching up," Moch said. "The level of the work is getting more intense and multiplied at every level."