Local school boards are throwing their support behind a lawsuit filed Thursday that claims the California education system has been underfunded by billions for years in violation of the state Constitution.

The lawsuit represents years of work by the California School Boards Assn. and state Parent Teacher Assn. organizations, who have the full backing of local boards in Glendale and Burbank, officials said.

A successful outcome would force state legislators to create a new mechanism to fund public education according to levels proscribed in the Constitution, said Glendale school board member Mary Boger, who serves as vice president of the California School Boards Assn.

"Every child in this state is constitutionally guaranteed a free and appropriate education," she said in an e-mail. "School board members have waited year after year for an unstable, unsound and insufficient funding structure to be corrected. Year after year, those who hold office in Sacramento have failed to this address this fundamental right of our students."

Burbank Unified Board of Education President Roberta Reynolds said school financing is inconsistent from year to year.

California has among the highest academic standards in the nation, but ranks 47th in funding per student.

"I'm happy to be in the same place where I'm supporting the Parent Teacher Assn. position," said Reynolds, a former president of the group in Burbank Unified. "This is important for all of us."

State Parent Teacher Assn. President Jo Loss called her group's involvement an unprecedented step, a description endorsed by Patty Scripter, vice president for legislation in the Glendale Parent Teacher Assn.

"We feel we can no longer rely on advocating for better resources for all children, we have to be more proactive," Scripter said. "I think most members are disappointed it's come to this."

The Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada school boards are not plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Nine school districts from around the state, as well as 60 individuals and other organizations, like the Assn. of California School Administrators, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court.

Glendale Unified Supt. Michael Escalante said the nine school districts suing the state personify some of public education's greatest challenges.

"Despite all the cuts we've made in the last six, seven years, our student achievement has continued to grow," he said. "If you're looking for an example where under-funding is going to hurt schools, we're not a great example."

Glendale Unified school board President Greg Krikorian said he'd consider filing legal documents to bolster the lawsuit, but the Board of Education would have the final say.

"Sacramento, that's where we've got to kick the doors down," he said.

"A lot of the money gets held up in Sacramento when it should be earmarked directly for school districts."

Part of the problem is funding formulas that date back to the 1950s, said Deborah Caplan, an attorney representing the coalition.

"They make it virtually impossible for districts to plan year-to-year or deliver an education where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed," she said during a press conference. "[The state constitution] requires the state to make education a priority, and set apart revenue to support its schools before it makes other decisions."