Education Law


Maintaining Educational Adequacy in Times of Recession: Judicial Review of State Education Budget Cuts

Vinay Harpalani

This Note examines judicial review and oversight of state educational adequacy remedies in light of education budget cuts proposed during the recent recession. Educational adequacy litigation has been relatively successful in establishing children’s affirmative right to education under state constitutions, but due to separation of powers concerns, most state courts have been quite deferential to legislatures in reviewing remedies for constitutional violations. This leaves many schools underfunded and under-resourced in spite of successful adequacy litigation—a problem that is aggravated during times of recession, when many states face pressure to cut education budgets. This Note examines these issues using functional separation of powers theory, comparative analysis of state and federal government functioning, and pragmatic considerations related to remedial compliance. It argues that state courts should apply heightened judicial review to ensure remedial compliance and particularly to review state education budget cuts that may disrupt educational adequacy remedies. In this way, state courts can be more vigilant in maintaining educational adequacy.

A New Model for States as Laboratories for Reform: How Federalism Informs Education Policy

Shannon K. McGovern

In the decade since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, American education
policy has been federalized and politicized to an unprecedented degree.
Widespread substantive and ideological criticism of the Act has left the future of the
legislation—and of federal education policy itself—in doubt. The Obama
Administration has called for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which has
engendered criticism as an unfunded federal mandate on the states. But the
Administration’s implementation of Race to the Top, a controversial education
reform competition among the states, has exacerbated concern about federal
encroachment upon state policy making autonomy.
In this Note, I explore both the troubling federalism implications of recent federal
education initiatives and the equally compelling policy considerations demanding
continued federal leadership. I conclude that globalization and entrenched interstate
inequality, among other forces, necessitate a continued, albeit more prudent,
role for the federal government in reforming K–12 education.

Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools—Are Anti-Bullying Statutes the Solution?

Lisa C. Connolly

In the last decade, anti-bullying legislation has rapidly proliferated, motivated in part by a string of highly publicized suicides by bullying victims—many of whom were targeted because of their sexual orientation. Despite heightened attention to the issue of anti-gay bullying, few statutes extend explicit protection to sexual minorities. In this Note, I argue that statutory proscriptions against bullying speech targeted at LGBT youth are necessary to ensure full protection for this particularly vulnerable group. Such limitations are constitutional under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court’s seminal case on student speech. Just as importantly, explicit prohibitions on anti-gay speech place state authority behind a clear message that LGBT students are just as important as their heterosexual peers. This message helps construct a reality that leaves no room for anti-gay bullying—where full equality for sexual minorities is the norm, rather than the exception.

Community Dreams and Nightmares: Arizona, Ethnic Studies, and the Continued Relevance of Derrick Bell’s Interest-Convergence Thesis

Kevin Terry

In 2010, the Arizona State Legislature drew national attention to issues of ethnicity, pedagogy, and censorship in public schools by passing House Bill 2281. As interpreted by Arizona officials, this law made the curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson public schools illegal. The ongoing conflict between supporters and opponents of the Department in public discourse—and in state and federal courts—raises important questions about the ways that majority and minority cultures interact in United States educational institutions. This Note uses Arizona’s ethnic studies ban to suggest that Derrick Bell’s interest-convergence thesis and Lani Guinier’s related theory of interest-divergence continue to be useful tools in assessing the dynamics between powerful and marginalized groups. The Note sets the facts of the ethnic studies controversy against recent criticism of Professor Bell’s work and, in doing so, rebuts the assertion that the interest-convergence thesis has become less relevant to understanding contemporary intergroup conflict in the United States.

Unionized Charter School Contracts as a Model for Reform of Public School Job Security

Peter Kauffman

To have a strong public education system, it is imperative to recruit and maintain high-caliber public school teachers and ensure that school administrators can terminate underperformers. Teachers unions have contributed to this effort by increasing professionalism in teaching and giving teachers a role in school management, but they have also detracted from it by making it too difficult to terminate incompetent teachers. Nonunionized charter schools that employ teachers at will, on the other hand, may leave teachers vulnerable to arbitrary or malicious terminations. Unionized charter schools, a relatively recent phenomenon, produce teacher contracts that, as the result of labor negotiations between two prominent players in education, could provide valuable lessons for reform to the American public education system. This Note’s analysis of contracts from the unionized charter schools in New York City reveals that they provide teachers with more job protection than employment at will but far less than provided in the public school union contract. Traditional public schools and unions should reform their collective bargaining agreements to provide a level of job security similar to that in the unionized charter school contracts. This may create the right balance between allowing principals to terminate incompetent teachers and protecting teachers from arbitrary or malicious terminations.

Aligning “Educational Necessity” with Title VI

Brence D. Pernell

An Enhanced Regulatory Role for Executive Agencies in Title VI Disparate Impact Enforcement

Title VI charges the federal government with removing discrimination in our public institutions. In light of disparate impact claims concerning a range of racially discriminatory education practices, this Note makes the case for the benefit of an official regulation from the U.S. Department of Education—as a federal arm—that more specifically informs the disparate impact framework’s educational necessity standard. This regulation would not only aid plaintiffs seeking to challenge harmful educational practices, but also provide courts with more specific and authoritative guidance in adjudicating Title VI disparate impact claims. This Note argues that a beneficial starting point for such a regulation would make clear that a discriminatory school policy should be evaluated based on whether a school policy advances equal educational opportunities and whether the school is in the best position to remedy a policy that does not. A regulation guided by this standard comports with Title VI’s original intention of rooting out discrimination against protected minority groups as well as helps to ensure minorities’ full access to a high quality public education.

Educational Opportunity for All: Reducing Intradistrict Funding Disparities

Lauren A. Webb

It is a common refrain in American education that the quality of a student’s education “should not depend on his or her zip code.” Yet American public education consistently falls short: Many schools and districts, in particular those with large populations of low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) and minority students, do not receive the funding necessary to provide their students with educational opportunities equal to those in wealthier schools. Plaintiffs in many states have sought to improve educational equity by using litigation to attack disparities in funding between districts. However, intradistrict inequity—the inequitable funding of schools within the same district—has persisted throughout the United States to the detriment of low-SES students around the country. This Note argues that these funding disparities can and should be addressed through both courts and policy changes. Students, families, and other parties harmed by intradistrict funding disparities should use state courts and state constitutions’ education clauses to extend previous interdistrict school funding victories and to force policymakers to implement more equitable intradistrict funding. Policymakers should implement school funding policies that promote comprehensive equity and take into account relevant student characteristics, including low socioeconomic status. These policies should promote comprehensive equity by providing all schools with base funding sufficient to give each student an adequate education and by distributing any funding beyond that amount equitably across schools in accordance with their students’ characteristics.

A Civics Action: Interpreting “Adequacy” In State Constitutions’ Education Clauses

Josh Kagan

The antipathy of federal and state courts toward equal protection arguments in lawsuits challenging the public funding of education have forced education activists to search for alternative doctrinal hooks as they continue to seek reform in states’ funding and management of schools. These activists have turned to state constitutions’ education clauses, which impose duties on state governments to provide an “adequate” education for all children in the state. However, the art of defining and measuring an “adequate” education has advanced little beyond its state in 1973, when Justice Thurgood Marshall found the term unhelpful. In this Note, Josh Kagan surveys various means of defining and measuring adequacy used by state courts, including the use of existing legislative or executive standards, the use of future legislative or executive standards, a variety of educational outputs (such as standardized test scores), and educational inputs (such as quality of teachers, curricula, or school buildings). Applying scholars’ theories of state constitutional interpretation and the history of state education clauses, Kagan argues that state courts should be aggressive in their use of educational inputs to define and measure educational adequacy. Unique factors of state governmental structure justify state court involvement in education policy questions that federal courts would consider inappropriate. These factors, coupled with the history of state education clauses, enable state courts to draw on a wide set of historical and current sources to define educational inputs required by state constitutions, and provide jurisprudential guidelines for this necessarily policy-laden analysis. Such an approach also encourages education activists to seek remedies other than reform to school financing systems; instead, activists can target states’ provision of particular educational inputs.