Education

Lawsuits Seek to Broaden Meaning of ‘Adequate,’ ‘Equitable’ Education

By Daarel Burnette II — April 10, 2017 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last week, I wrote about Kansas’ legislature which is internally fighting over ways to address a state supreme court ruling that called their funding formula “inadequate.”

From my story:

State courts have sparred with politicians for decades over how much money lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to provide public schools.

But in Kansas this year, lawmakers and school officials are asking deeper questions about not only how much money is spent but also where to invest that money to assure that black, Latino, and low-income students, in particular, are seeing academic results.

Last week, a bill was proposed in the Kansas House to add more than $750 million to public schools over five years. That bill is now competing with another bill that wants to pour just $75 million more into the schools which would crack down on academically wayward schools, upend the state’s accreditation process to demand faster gains, offer vouchers to students “trapped” at chronically failing schools, and more strictly target money to intervention programs for the state’s poor students.

What made Kansas’ ruling unique, school funding experts told me, is that the judges there recognized that the amount of money you pour into a public school system may matter as much, if not more, than the way you distribute that money.

For decades, school districts and parents have used state courts as a way to force state politicians to fork more money over to their K-12 public schools. The courts use a mix of educators’ testimony, fiscal studies and districts’ and states’ budget books to determine whether the way and the amount states spend their education dollars is, as their constitution dictates, equitable and adequate.

A new round of school-related lawsuits could dramatically expand courts’ interpretation of equitable and adequate education.

Michael Rebell, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University who tracks funding cases said while state judges have set a precedent on determining levels of funding for public schools, they’ve “shied away” from dictating to states how to close those disparities.

“It gets into this question of what expertise, what capability, courts have in getting into educational policy issues,” Rebell said in a phone interview.

Below are a rundown of pending or recently decided cases that push to broaden the meaning of “adequate” and “equitable” education.

Vergara v. California

In this case, a group of students sued California in a state court arguing that its tenure laws make it nearly impossible to fire “grossly ineffective” teachers and thus pose a direct harm to students, effectively violating students’ rights to an “equitable” education. The state’s supreme court ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs, but the lawsuit sparked a lawsuit in Minnesota where parents sued the state arguing that the laws surrounding its teaching requirements leave the state’s poor students with a disproportionate number of ill-prepared teachers. That lawsuit was soon tossed by a lower-court judge, but plaintiffs at the time said they planned to appeal to the state’s supreme court.

Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota

In a seperate lawsuit, a group of parents from charter and traditional public schools sued Minnesota in late 2015 for violating that state’s constitutional rights to an adequate and equitable education. They argue that Minneapolis and St. Paul officials both resegregated their school systems over the last decade, clustering black, Latino, and immigrant students in underperforming schools with few resources.

A lower court judge determined it was not the state’s role to determine state and district education policies, a point the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Dan Shulman, took issue with. He cited a long precedent in Minnesota and across the country of state judges intervening on behalf of black, Latino, and poor students and said the court had taken a “wrong turn.”

“If a legislature is recalcitrant, refractory and won’t do anything, the court could always appoint a receiver to do it for them,” he said.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the perceptions of violence in St. Paul schools after the redistricting of its public schools.

Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding Inc. v. Rell, Jodi, M. Et. al.

What was originally a school funding lawsuit quickly morphed into a lower court ruling that could potentially upend the state’s entire school accountability system. In September last year, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ordered the state’s legislature and department of education to, within the next six months, come up with a new school funding formula, teacher-evaluation system, and standards to close the achievement gap between the state’s poor urban and more-affluent suburban children. The actual 90-page ruling is worth the read.

The state’s attorney general has appealed the case, arguing that it’s not the court’s role to dictate education policy. The state’s supreme court is set to decide soon whether to uphold the lower-court ruling.

Group of Parents v. Gov. Snyder, the Michigan Board of Education, Brian Whiston, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Natasha Baker, the State School Reform/Redesign Officer

Last year, a group of parents from charter schools and public schools in Detroit sued in federal court a plethora of state officials for violating their U.S. constitutional rights by denying their children a right to literacy. The parents argue that the state deprived its poor black and Latino students access to books, quality teachers, sufficient curriculum and safe buildings, making it almost impossible to learn to read. Without literacy skills, lawyers argue, graduates of Detroit’s public schools have an increasingly difficult time being “active citizens” such as voting, serving on juries or in the military.

An earlier and separate funding case in Michigan state courts was tossed because that state’s constitution doesn’t define the type of education students are required to receive, only that they’re “encouraged” to receive an education.

Winning a federal case could set a precedent closely watched across the country. The parents are asking for “evidence-based literacy reforms.”


Don’t miss another State EdWatch post. Sign up here to get news alerts in your email inbox. And make sure to follow @StateEdWatch on Twitter for the latest news from state K-12 policy and politics.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)