LOS ANGELES - In pledging its support for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's school reform bill, the ACLU of Southern California becomes the first major civil rights group to back the plan to improve Los Angeles Unified School District and increase accountability within the system.

The announcement comes after the Executive Committee of the ACLU/SC voted unanimously to support AB 1381, the Gloria Romero Educational Reform Act of 2006. The ACLU will deliver a letter in support of the bill to the Legislature Monday, Aug. 14 when hearings on AB 1381 are set to begin in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The following statement can be attributed to Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

Education reform has always been a cornerstone of the ACLU of Southern California's civil liberties work. It is the underpinning of everything we do and we are committed to improving education so that students have equal opportunities, each student's worth and potential is recognized and all are given the tools to succeed.

We are pleased to pledge our support to AB 1381, the Gloria Romero Educational Reform Act of 2006, because we are hopeful it will significantly improve the education of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. While we believe there are some changes that would improve the bill, it provides necessary reform of the governance of the district and it increases accountability within the system.

In its current incarnation LAUSD has failed generations of children and LAUSD has the state's highest drop-out rate - roughly 50 percent.

The status quo is unacceptable. We are encouraged that this bill, if passed, will hold the mayor of Los Angeles directly accountable for three clusters of very low-performing schools in different areas of the city. It is that direct responsibility that is necessary to improve LAUSD. The bill also properly strengthens the role and accountability of the District Superintendent, which is key to school improvement.

Reform of the LAUSD is long overdue and AB 1381 is an important step in the right direction. If passed, the mayor will have significant incentive to see real reform take place in the schools and that is imperative to the success of the district.