LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California is pleased Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Friday an education improvement bill that builds on the landmark Williams v. California settlement and improves the $800 million Emergency Repair Program. The bill was signed on the second anniversary of the Williams settlement.

Assembly Bill 607 addresses the concerns of school district officials who have hesitated to apply for settlement funds because the emergency program has required them to pay for repairs before receiving full reimbursement from the state. AB 607 solves these problems by turning the ERP into a grant program, allowing districts to receive funds before as well as after conducting health and safety repairs.

'This is an important and much needed fix,' said Brooks Allen, ACLU/SC staff attorney. 'Now, district officials facing tight budgets may take full advantage of the repair funds and carry out critical repairs without fear of getting stuck with the bill.'

Part of the Williams settlement included the creation of the ERP, an $800 million fund to be used for emergency repairs at the state's lowest-performing schools. But some school officials have been reluctant to dip into it because they could not receive funds up front and could not be guaranteed that the state would agree that the repairs qualified as 'emergency facilities needs,'or facilities conditions that threaten the health and safety of students or staff, Allen said.

Since the beginning of the program, only $7.3 million has been spent despite documentation of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of needed repairs at eligible schools. Currently, $330.6 million is available in the fund, and at least $100 million more will be added each fiscal year until $800 million has been provided.

Williams, originally filed in May 2000, charged the state with denying thousands of California students their fundamental right to an education under the state constitution by failing to give them basic educational necessities, including sufficient instructional materials, qualified teachers, and clean, safe and functional learning facilities. The settlement and subsequent implementing legislation, which was signed on Sept. 29, 2004, hold schools accountable for delivering these basic necessities and provides about $1 billion to accomplish these goals.

For more information on Williams v. California and how implementation of the settlement legislation is improving learning conditions across California, please visit http://www.aclusocal.org/News/Releases/2005/101499/.