In the fall of 2020, around the height of the debate over pandemic school closures, a lawsuit in California made a serious claim: The state had failed its constitutional obligation to provide an equal education to lower-income, Black and Hispanic students, who had less access to online learning.

Now, in a settlement announced on Thursday, the state has agreed to use at least $2 billion meant for pandemic recovery to help those students who are still trying to catch up. And it includes guardrails for how the money can be used.

Mark Rosenbaum, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, described it as a “historic settlement” that ensures that the money will go to students who are “most in need.”

“Kids weren’t getting anything close to the education that was deserved, and that was baked into a system of inequities to begin with,” he said.

The settlement will require school districts to identify and assess students who need the most support and use the money for interventions backed by evidence. Research shows that certain interventions, such as frequent, small group tutoring and extra learning time on school breaks, can produce significant gains.

State officials say the money — which will come out of a larger pot of dollars already set aside for districts, pending legislative approval — is part of an ongoing commitment to serving the most vulnerable students.

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