Does state law require public schools to be "open to all"?


Does state law mandate "equality of educational opportunity"?


Do the courts recognize education as a fundamental right?

Yes—Serrano v. Priest (1971)

State Constitution

Article IX, § 5.The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.


In California, attendance zones could be vulnerable to an equal protection challenge and strict scrutiny review, because the CA Supreme Court has ruled education to be a “fundamental interest,”which has been interpreted to mean that education is a fundamental right in CA. However, such a challenge will have to contend with § 7 of Art. i of the state constitution, which was passed as a ballot Proposition 1 in 1979 and which forbids the state courts from applying a standard of strict scrutiny in the limited domains of “pupil school assignment or pupil transportation.”The amendment was passed to block courts from implementing desegregation busing schemes, which were very unpopular with the CA public. It is unclear whether § 7 would survive a court challenge today.

Because k-12 education is primarily funded by the state, the case for eliminating district boundaries is more compelling in CA than in most other states.The Districts of Choice program—expiring in 2023—is a step toward allowing all students to attend the district of their choosing.There is also a favorable legislative precedent, because students were originally assigned to community colleges by residential address, but the state legislature opened up all community colleges to all students in 1987.

Open Enrollment

CA Education Code § 35160.5(b). Mandated by state law, but discrimination required based on address of residence: No pupil who resides in the attendance area of a school shall be displaced by pupils transferring from outside the attendance area.

CA Ed Code § 46600– 46607, 48204(b), 48300–48316: Can be denied by either the resident district or the non-resident district. Requires student to get permit to cross district lines (waived for military personnel). § 48301 establishes a temporary “district of choice” program in which state funding follows students to selected districts that choose to participate. A permit from the resident district is not required. Expires in 2023.

State Law Establishing Attendance Zones

The open enrollment law implicitly requires zones by stating that students have access to any school within their district, but not if a student from the attendance area will be displaced.

State Law Criminalizing Use Of Incorrect Address

None found.

Charter School Admissions

Most charter schools are forbidden from discriminating against students based on their residential address. But a charter school that is converted to charter from an existing public school is required to discriminate on the same basis:“Admission to a charter school shall not be determined according to the place of residence of the pupil, or of the pupil’s parent or legal guardian, within this state, except that an exist- ing public school converting partially or entirely to a charter school under this part shall adopt and maintain a policy giving admission preference to pupils who reside within the former attendance area of that public school.” CA Ed Code § 47605.