In this Essay, Professor Ryan uses a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, Sheff v. O’Neill, to explore both the limits and the possibilities of school finance litigation, and to begin an examination of the relationship between school finance and desegregation. Using Sheff as his starting point, Professor Ryan contends that school “finance” litigation need not, and perhaps should not, be solely about money. He suggests that Sheff and the experience of the Hartford schools provide strong evidence of the limited efficacy of increased expenditures in racially and socioeconomically isolated schools. Professor Ryan then explains how the underlying right recognized in school finance cases–the right to an adequate or equal education–can support alternative claims for relief. Specifically, he suggests that these rights can support such nonmonetary remedies as racial and socioeconomic integration and school choice.
James E. Ryan
This Article examines the No Child Left Behind Act, which may be the most important federal education law in our nation’s history. The Act is supposed to increase academic achievement in schools across the nation, raise the performance of disadvantaged students to the level of their more affluent counterparts, and attract qualified professionals to teach in every classroom. These goals are obviously laudable. As Professor Ryan explains, however, the Act creates incentives that actually work against their achievement. Specifically, the Act unintentionally encourages states to lower their academic standards, promotes school segregation and the pushing out of poor and minority students, and discourages good teachers from taking jobs in challenging classrooms. Should any or all of these effects occur, achieving the Act’s goals will be more difficult, not less. Professor Ryan goes on to suggest a solution, albeit a partial one, to the problems created by the No Child Left Behind Act. Rather than focus on absolute achievement levels as the basis for school accountability, Ryan argues that the federal government and states should focus on rates of growth. Doing so would not only give a more accurate picture of school quality, and thus provide a fairer basis for school accountability; it would also diminish or eliminate the perverse incentives created by the No Child Left Behind Act. The Article concludes with a brief discussion of what the No Child Left Behind Act can teach us about the proper role of the federal government in education law and policy.