Wednesday, November 26, 2014
The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a class-action lawsuit alleging that a school corporation's decision to end free school bus transportation violated the state constitution's education clause. The state supreme court is reviewing the court of appeals' decision in Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., holding that transportation to and from school is an integral "part of a uniform system of public education" under the Indiana Constitution. The court of appeals found that the school corporation, Franklin Township, acted unconstititionally in discontinuing its free school bus service and in contracting with a third party provider that required students to pay for transportation. The appellate court also noted that school corporations are obligated to provide free transportation for students with disabilities, homeless students, and students in foster care. The court of appeals saw no rationale to exclude any other student who needed transportation to school, even if the student was not in one of the mandatory transportation categories. The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a school corporation could not impose a student-services fee that included payment for school counselors, nurses, and security, because those services were part of a publicly-funded education. Nagy v. Evansville–Vanderburgh School Corp., 844 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 2006). Franklin Township Community School Corporation cut its bus service after Indiana's public schools lost hundreds of millions of dollars when new property-tax caps went into effect in 2010. The Township later contracted with an educational service center to provide student transportation for an annual fee. The case set for argument is Hoagland v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., No. 49A02-1301-PL-44, 2014 WL 2580663 (Ind. Ct. App. June 10, 2014), transfer granted, opinion vacated, 2014 WL 5312934 (Ind. Oct. 16, 2014). Watch the oral argument online here.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
On Monday, the N.M. Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of a law requiring the state to provide instructional materials to schools, including private ones. A group of plaintiffs sued the the N.M. Public Education Department and challenged New Mexico's Instructional Material Law that requires the state education department to buy and distribute instructional material to schools "as agents for the benefit of eligible students." NMSA 1978, §§ 22-15-1 to -14. The plaintiffs argued that the law conflicted with several articles of the New Mexico Constitution, including the state's counterpart to the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, articles prohibiting the state from investing in private corporations and granting the state exclusive control over education. Finding for the state education department, the Court of Appeals held that "the mere indirect or incidental benefit to the private schools" did not violate the state constitution. The court interpreted the state constitution's prohibition against public funding of "sectarian, denominational or private" schools to have intended only to maintain state control of public schools and keep public schools from becoming sectarian. In rejecting the plaintiffs' arguments based on cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and other states, the New Mexico court stated, "We believe that the legislative intent in promoting the education of all schoolchildren in New Mexico deserves greater weight than the cases cited by Plaintiffs afford." Moreover, the court noted, the books are not given to private schools, but the schools only receive possession of the books as agents for the students. Read Moses, et al., v. Skandera, Acting Sec'y of Education, No. 33,002 (N.M. App. Oct. 27, 2014) here.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Litigants have filed another challenge to the Common Core, this time in Missouri. The theory there is particularly unique. They charge that state funding of the consortium that is developing Common Core standards and assessments amounts to an "illegal interstate compact" and cedes state sovereignty over education to the consortium. They also charge that the U.S. Department of Education has illegally funded the consortium: $360 million to Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which are developing the standards. The lawsuit alleges this funding was not authorized by Congress.
I have not investigated this latter claim, but am skeptical, given that the funds flowed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Education significant discretion in awarding grants to promote education innovation. That level of funding to Common Core developers, however, would give added support to the argument that the college and career readiness requirements in Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind Waivers were de facto requirements that states adopt the Common Core. In other words, the Department funded a private group to develop standards and then required states to adopt standards that could be found in only one place: the place that the Department funded.
More on this argument here.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Following up on Derek's post, Washington Supreme Court Turns Up Heat on State Legislature in School Funding Case, last week Washington's high court found the legislature in contempt as some predicted after oral arguments in the case. The Washington Supreme Court's ruling in McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington, comes during a tumultuous year for the legislature on school funding issues. This spring Gov. Jay Insbee blamed the legislature for Washington becoming the first state to have its NCLB waiver revoked this spring, the state supreme court ruled in January (in this case) that the state's education funding system was unconstitutional, and the state faces a $1 billion education budget shortfall. In McCleary, the court indicated it has grown tired of legislative delays in complying with the court's January order to fully fund basic education by the 2017-18 school year. The court wrote last week that it was not issuing the order simply to get the legislature's attention. Instead, "contempt is the means by which a court enforces compliance with its lawful orders when they are not followed," the court wrote. Read the court's order in McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington here.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
New Hampshire Supreme Court Reinstates Tuition Tax Credit Program But Avoids Law’s Constitutionality
A unanimous New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected a challenge last week to the state’s tuition tax credit law but side-stepped the issue of its constitutionality. The state supreme court dismissed Duncan v. State of New Hampshire on standing grounds, holding that a recent amendment to the law allowing taxpayer standing was insufficient to confer standing under the state constitution. While New Hampshire’s constitution does not have a corresponding provision to the federal constitution’s Article III standing clause, the court interpreted a provision authorizing the supreme court to rule upon “upon important questions of law and upon solemn occasions” to prohibit issuing advisory opinions to private persons. The N.H. Supreme Court’s ruling reinstates a law allowing businesses to receive an 85 percent tax credit when they donate to private scholarship organizations for students who attend private school, homeschool or an out-of-district public school. A lower court ruled last year that the tax credit program unconstitutionally sent public tax dollars to private religious schools. Right now, the tax credit program is so small that it may be difficult to demonstrate harm in a future legal challenge, Bill Duncan, state Board of Education member and lead plaintiff, told NPR. The state’s first scholarship program raised $250,000 dollars for scholarships in 2013, but $50,000 this year, albeit in the shadow of the lower-court ruling. The state program would allow up to to $5.1 million in tax credits to be claimed this year. Read Duncan v. State of New Hampshire here.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
New York State Department of Education just released "Parents' Bill of Rights for Data Privacy and Security." It is based on the U.S. Department of Education's "Model Notification of Rights." In essence, it is a reiteration of the rights contained in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The document, however, came with a certain amount of fanfare given the recent concerns over data privacy. The reiterated rights include the right to
- inspect and review a student's records
- request corrections of inaccurate information in the records
- prevent disclosure of personal records to third parties
- refuse to let the school include a student in it directories
- file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education for violations of the Act
At the risk of sounding grumpy, it strikes me as preposterous to use the term "Bill of Rights" in regard to this document, even though it is qualified by "Privacy." As a basic descriptive term, bill of rights is fitting enough, but "Bill of Rights" is rarely invoked descriptively. Most often, it is used to liken a document to the broad, fundamental rights included in the first eight amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In that respect, it is meant to declare something monumental.
Friday, August 1, 2014
According to a new lawsuit filed yesterday, the Utah State School Board "violated [the] law by adopting the Common Core State Standards without substantive input from parents and educators." The lawsuit was brought by the Libertas Institute, along with six parents and teachers. The plaintiffs contend that "they were denied an opportunity to be consulted" before the standards were adopted and request that the court grant an injunction against any implementation of the Common Core.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Seventeen Louisiana legislators have filed suit, alleging that Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's adoption of the Common Core Curriculum did not comply with the necessary process required by the state's Administrative Procedures Act. This case is the inverse of the one dismissed last week by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. There, the legislature had repealed the Common Core and the state board argued that the legislation violated the board's constitutional authority to supervise education. In Louisiana, the legislature is claiming the board acted unlawfully in adopting the common core.
The Common Core, teacher assessment changes, and NCLB waivers--which prompted the first two reforms, are producing schizophrenic litigation. Almost every week has brought new litigation,
Monday, June 9, 2014
Following a number of school religious expression bills introduced in state legislatures in the last year, the North Carolina House passed a bill last week that allows public school students to pray, express religious viewpoints, pass out religious materials, and assemble "as is given to other noncurricular groups without discrimination based on the religious content of the students' expression." The N.C. House approved S.B. 370, which also provides that school employees who are viewing student religious expression "shall not be disrespectful of the student exercise of such rights and may adopt a respectful posture." The bill will have to return to the state senate for final approval, where it is expected to pass. The ACLU of North Carolina released a statement objecting to the bill's language which it says could leave school officials unclear about the rules, particularly as adopting "a respectful posture" could communicate approval of one religious view above others. In application, the legislation is certain to highlight the tension between the Establishment and the Free Speech and Exercise Clauses that currently require public school officials to show neutrality in their treatment of religion and not inhibit student expression of privately-held views as long as that expression does not infringe upon the rights of others. For an overview of the constitutional issues, read the ED's Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools here.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Tennessee teachers have filed a second lawsuit this year challenging the state’s use of student standardized test scores to determine teachers' retention and merit pay evaluations. Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman are named as defendants in the suit filed by Knox County teacher Mark Taylor, an eighth grade science teacher who said that he was unfairly denied a bonus after his teacher effectiveness score was based on the standardized test scores of only 22 of his 142 students. In 1992, Tennessee’s General Assembly passed the Education Improvement Act to establish “a statistical system for educational outcome assessment that uses measures of student learning to enable the estimation of teacher, school and school district statistical distributions,” called the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS). TVAAS estimates measure the impact that teachers, schools and school districts have on the educational progress of students based on state standardized tests results in grades 3 through 8. Because Tennessee sought Race to the Top federal funds that require local districts to measure teacher effectiveness on student standardized test scores, the TVAAS is heavily weighted in teachers’ overall effectiveness score for hiring, retention, and incentive decisions.
For the plaintiff Taylor, who teaches four upper-level physical science courses and one regular eighth grade science class, only the standardized scores of his general science class counted in his TVAAS estimate. The student scores in his higher-performing upper-level classes, measured by local tests, were not included in his evaluation. Taylor was denied a bonus under the teacher evaluation program even though he says the observation component of his evaluation showed that he was exceeding expectations. Taylor argues that the state violated his 14th Amendment right to equal protection from “irrational state-imposed classifications” by using a small fraction of his students to determine his overall effectiveness. Last month, Knox County teacher Lisa Trout challenged the TVAAS evaluation system after she was denied a bonus. Trout alleged that she was misled about how her TVAAS estimate would be calculated. The Tennessee case is Taylor v. Haslam, No. 3:14CV00113, 2014 WL 1087776 (E.D.Tenn., filed March 19, 2014). Read more at the Tennessee Education Association here.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Charter schools were envisioned as small-scale laboratories to test innovative educational programs and to reach struggling students who could thrive with more individualized attention. Minnesota is now deciding how to deal with those charter programs that are chronically underperforming. The state legislature seems to be doing the sensible thing this week by considering legislation to require an evaluation process for the state’s lowest-performing charter schools. The proposed evaluation system could prevent charter operators with underperforming schools from opening new schools. The current proposal may make it easier to shut down 17 of the state's chronically underperforming charters. (Charters that that have a high number English language learners or special education students would be exempt.) Minnesota Public News Radio reports that the head of a 2013 study by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity says that that 25-30% of the state’s 150 charter schools are “just really terrible…considerably worse than the public schools.”
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The Eleventh Circuit ruled today that members of Alabama’s powerful teacher union cannot pay their dues through automatic payroll deductions, thus affecting the union’s largest funding source. In 2010, the Alabama legislature passed a law prohibiting government employees from having membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks if the money went "to a membership organization which use[d] any portion of the dues for political activity." The Alabama Education Association (AEA), later joined by the Alabama State Employees Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters, contested the law saying that the term “political activity” was over broad and an infringement on free speech. The 11th Circuit disagreed, finding that the law’s language “prohibits only the use of state mechanisms to support politically active organizations. The Act does not prohibit “ ‘ private forms of payment, i.e., forms of payment not facilitated by the government. ‘ ” The circuit court concluded, “the Act only declines to promote speech, rather than abridging it, and that the Act does not implicate any constitutionally protected conduct[.]” The 11th Circuit also rejected the AEA's argument that Republican lawmakers passed the law to punish the teachers’ union, whose members largely support Democratic candidates. Read the opinion in Alabama Education Association v. Bentley, No. 11-11266 (11th Cir. Feb. 5, 2014), here.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Opening arguments began Monday in a Caliornia case that challenges the state’s teacher tenure laws. Nine California students, in litigation financed by Students Matter, an advocacy organization headed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, are asking a state court to declare that California’s teacher tenure and seniority statutes, among others, violate the equal protection provision of the state constitution. The plaintiffs argue that the statutes protect “grossly ineffective teachers who cannot prepare students to compete in the economic marketplace or participate in a democracy.” The statutes have a disproportionately adverse effect upon minority and economically disadvantaged students, the plaintiffs maintain, because those students are at greater risk of being assigned ineffective teachers. That risk compounds the damage of disproportionate school budgets in lower-income school districts. The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction against laws that protect teachers' jobs and thus lower the quality of education for children in California. Read the 2012 complaint in Vergara v. California here.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction vowed to return to her job at the department of education this week after the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that a law stripping her of most of her authority was unconstitutional. State school superintendent Cindy Hill sued the state after Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed a law that transferred her supervisory powers to an appointed “director” of public instruction, who took over the state’s $1 billion education budget and 150 employees. Hill was assigned a separate office away from the education department with about six employees. In a 3-2 decision released Tuesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution gives the Superintendent, an elected position, the responsibility of the “general supervision of the public schools” and that the legislature could not constitutionally transfer that supervisory authority from an elected state official to an appointed director. The bill that divested Hill of power, Senate File 104 (nicknamed the “Hill bill”), is now being reviewed to see if it can be saved. Superintendent Hill’s case will return to the Laramie court that asked the state supreme court to rule on the law’s constitutionality. Meanwhile, Hill has announced that she will be running for governor next year but she still faces a mismanagement investigation by a state House committee that could lead to her impeachment. Read court’s opinion in Powers v. State of Wyoming, et al., here.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Given the recent tumultuous times for the Philadelphia school district, this week’s announcement that 130 city educators have been implicated in a cheating scandal is not earth shattering. The cheating investigation, conducted by state education officials and the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, found a suspicious number of erasures and corrections of wrong to right answers on state standardized math and reading tests taken from 2009 to 2011. The test improprieties are alleged to have occurred at 53 Philadelphia area schools, about 20 percent of the total number of schools in the city. The 130 educators have been accused of providing students with answers, erasing wrong answers or supervising those who did without reporting them.
The Philadelphia school system, the nation’s eighth largest school district, has been under tremendous pressure for much of the year. As Derek has covered in this blog, Philadelphia’s schools were hard-hit by the state’s decision to change its education-funding formula from one based on the local costs of educating the district’s children to one based primarily on enrollment. Twenty-three schools were closed. Coupled with an overall $1 billion cut in the state education budget, Philadelphia schools came up well short of the money needed to operate and had to borrow $50 million to open its remaining schools in September. Principals were reduced to asking parents to pay hundreds of dollars per child to attend public schools. The budget crisis led to a $350 million deficit this school year, which created shortages of school nurses, counselors, security officers, and reduced special education services throughout the district.
Like their counterparts in the Atlanta cheating indictments last year, Philadelphia’s educators are under pressure to show gains in proficiency on high-stakes standardized tests. When those gains do not happen within a year or two, the incentive to cheat is strong. Cheating can mean saving jobs, avoiding being branded as a “failing” school, and winning bonuses and federal incentive funds when the students are deemed to be proficient in reading and math.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Special education advocates are protesting the revival of a controversial bill in the Wisconsin legislature to give students with disabilities vouchers to attend private school. Four Wisconsin legislators announced a bill Tuesday that would give up to $14,000 per student for children with disabilities to attend private school. The legislators said that the vouchers would allow special needs students to leave failing schools and instead attend schools of their choice. Parents and advocates for special needs children have formed a grassroots effort called Stop Special Needs Vouchers (SSNV). SSNV says that the vouchers "would funnel critical taxpayer funding out of public schools and into private voucher schools which lack vital accountability." The group argues that the bill would exempt private voucher schools from complying with the standards in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and may leave children with disabilities without a school if the school cannot meet students' needs or suddenly closes, as Milwaukee’s LifeSkills Academy recently did. The group says that the LifeSkills Academy example is particularly important because as a private voucher school, it received $2 million in taxpayer funds then closed abruptly after only one of its students showed proficiency in reading on standardized tests in two years. The school's unannounced closure left its students scrambling to find new schools in the middle of the academic year. (LifeSkills' owners have moved on to open a special needs voucher school in Florida, where legislation for private school scholarships for special education students was passed in 2001.)
Wisconsin's previous attempt to provide private school vouchers to special needs children came under sharp scrutiny prompting a lawsuit and an advisory letter from the DOJ to Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction in 2013 warning that "[t]he state cannot, by delegating the education function to private voucher schools, place students beyond the reach of the federal laws that require Wisconsin to eliminate disability discrimination in its administration of public programs." The measure was shelved then because of strong opposition. A paper by the National Council on Disability, School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities, supports SSVN's concerns. Two findings from the paper note the difficulty of using vouchers in private schools if the vouchers do not cover the cost of needed supports in students' Individualized Education Programs:" Because vouchers can only cover a portion of costs of special education over and above the cost of private school tuition in many cases, particularly for students with moderate, low-incidence and severe disabilities, such programs may benefit only the affluent who can afford to supplement vouchers to cover actual costs. Since school districts will lose students and a proportion of state funds due to transfers to private schools, it is possible that public schools will be left to serve only poor students with more significant disabilities, and at a reduced level of financial support. ...  The principle of school choice, and voucher programs in particular, have not been adequately shown to be internally consistent and mutually reinforcing with regard to the other three principles of IDEA reauthorization (accountability for results, increasing local flexibility, and a focus on what works) outlined by the U.S. Department of Education." Read more about the Wisconsin bill here.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Gainesville, Georgia School District has approved a measure that would allow their school resource officers to carry rifles. The deal came as part of an agreement with the local police department, which will share half of the cost of the safes in which the rifles are to be kept at school. The discussions began shortly after the Newton shootings, when the police department approached the district about safety measures. At risk of stating the obvious, it is problematic when police departments help set school policy, even when that policy pertains to safety. Police expertise is certainly important on such matters, but should not "steer the bus." This sounds like a militarization of an environment that is supposed to be education. Second, it has never been my understanding that any of these mass school shootings are a result of insufficient firepower at school. Rather the problem is that weapons entered the school in the first instance. I know Jason Nance has written a lot around these issues right in recent months. See here for his most recent article.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
This past summer, North Carolina passed legislation altering the tenure rights of public school teachers. Teachers who have not already accumulated four years of service in a district are deprived of any opportunity for career services and only qualify for year-to-year teaching contracts. Teachers who previously qualified for or earned tenure will lose their protections beginning in 2018.
Yesterday, the North Carolina Association of Educators and six tenured teachers filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation. They put forward two theories. First, they assert that taking away tenure violates the state constitutional protection against deprivations of life, liberty, and property. They argue tenure is a vested property right. To take it away, the state would have to compensate teachers, which it has not here. Second, they assert the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against impairing contracts. The tenure relationship between teachers and districts creates contractual rights on the part of teachers and now the state has stepped in and impaired those rights.
The full complaint is available here.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The city of Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, attracts families because of its highly rated school system. That attraction may be lessened next year because the school board voted to eliminate school bus service for most students in 2014. The Hoover City Board of Education’s school budget will have a $17 million deficit next year ended bus service to save money. This week, parents, activists, and the NAACP held a press conference in downtown Birmingham to protest the decision. First, they said, there is little evidence that cutting bus service will realize substantial savings. Yesterday, we posted an infographic by Trisha Powell Crain of alabamaschoolconnection.org that questions the district’s estimated savings of $2.5 million (Crain’s numbers shows that the savings will likely be under a million dollars). Protestors say that costs have little to do with the decision—that the real motive for stopping school bus service is to ease out students who perform poorly on standardized tests. A Hoover mother of three said in al.com that"[w]e all know the elephant in the room is there's a demographic of black children and Hispanic children that they don't want here. [Diversity was] OK when you were importing all the black kids to come and play football. You just didn't count on their cousins coming with them.” School officials deny that the move is an effort to get rid of black, Hispanic, or low-income children in Hoover. Critics of the decision also point out that families will avoid buying homes in Hoover without any bus service for their children, which will affect property values. Hoover mayor Gary Ivey has rebuffed that criticism, saying property values in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, Birmingham’s wealthiest suburbs, have not declined even though they have no school bus transportation. Meanwhile, another city leader, Hoover Councilman Gene Smith, has paid nearly $30,000 of his own money for a study of the impact of the school bus cuts on Hoover's property values and socioeconomics. Smith says that he will reveal the results of the study on November 18. Spokespersons for the Department of Justice and the Alabama Board of Education say that they are monitoring the Hoover situation. In this age of accountability testing, declining test scores has implications for school funding, teachers’ jobs, and property values. Three Hoover schools are discovering those stakes when they landed on Alabama’s “failing schools” list last year for not making adequate yearly progress.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
An Alabama town’s decision to eliminate bus service next year is supposed to save money, but may be instead highlighting the perverse incentives of accountability testing reform. The Hoover, Alabama school system, which is in a suburb of Birmingham, controversially decided to end bus transportation for all except children with special needs starting in the 2014-15 school year, saying that it would save $2.5 million of the district’s $160 million budget. The Hoover district denies that getting rid of the buses that serve half of its students has anything to do with test scores, property values, or the increasing ethnic diversity in the area. But eliminating school buses, as Trisha Powell Crain says at alabamaschoolconnection.org this week, will not bring substantial cost savings, or at least not any that will show up in classrooms. She made the attached graphic about school finances. The likely place where the money would go is for the $2.8 million increase on the district’s debt payment. This cost savings disconnect was brought home when Hoover announced its plans to pay for students to have iPads and Nooks in the 2013-14 school year. Locals have two theories about stopping the school buses: the first is that the district ended bus service to discourage recent immigrant families from remaining in Hoover, since their children will not have a way to school. The second theory is that the district is discouraging academically and economically disadvantaged students from moving into Hoover because those students may lower the district’s standardized test scores. I vote for mixed motive. Alabama is famously uncomfortable with immigration, so the increased diversity may be a factor in the changes. Other affluent districts around Hoover do not offer school bus transportation. Lower-income and immigrant families settle in Hoover because of the district’s good school ratings and bus transportation, as school board member Paulette Pearson pointed out this spring, saying that the bus system makes Hoover “as a bit of a haven, so [families] come straight to us. … We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that.” But I also suspect that Hoover is trying to ease out lower-income and immigrant students to keep standardized test scores high. Because accountability testing has been made the divining rod of a good education, school districts feel that they cannot have a critical mass of students who do not perform well on standardized tests. In other words, the district is shedding students who most need a solid education.