Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Florida School Board Sued For Allegedly Funneling Recent Immigrant Students To Non-Credit, Fee-Based Program
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit yesterday in the Middle District of Florida challenging a policy of the Collier County, Florida School Board for allegedly steering English language learner (ELL) students off-site for adult English-only instruction. The named plaintiffs are two Guatemalan teens who were denied admission to high school in the Collier County district and instead referred an off-site, non-credit, adult, English language-only class at a local technical college. At issue is Collier County's age policy, which denies high school admission to students who are 17 years old or older who cannot meet graduation credit requirements by the end of the school year of their 19th birthday. The lawsuit alleges that despite federal and state civil rights laws and the federal and state mandates to teach and bring ELL students to grade level, the Collier County Board's policy acts to deny admission to recent immigrant students who lack English proficiency. The suit's allegations highlight potential barriers faced by immigrant children who seek to enroll in U.S. schools. A recent report by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute, Ensuring Every Undocumented Student Succeeds: A Report on Access to Public Education for Undocumented Children, cited similar examples of schools' discouraging "enrollment of undocumented students due to ancillary considerations, such as testing, grade placement, and prospects of graduation." A copy of the SPLC lawsuit can be found here.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Ohio Supreme Court Holds That State Education Department Can Retroactively Claim Funds From Districts' Budgets
The Ohio Supreme Court recently reversed a trial court ruling and held that the State could retroactively lower school districts' funding without running afoul of the state constitution's retroactivity clause. The case arose when the State Dept. of Education determined that school boards in the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo districts had been overpaid for fiscal year 2005 when it mistakenly counted students as part of district budgets even though the students were attending community schools outside of their home districts. The department recouped the overpayment by deducting the amounts from the boards’ school-foundation funding during fiscal years 2005-2007. The Cincinnati School District sued the department over its fiscal-year-2005 adjustment of Cincinnati’s school-foundation funding but settled before the Ohio Supreme Court could decide the case. In the meantime, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that allowed the department to adjust school funding retroactively and immunized the department from liability for any legal claim for reimbursement brought by a school district. The school districts argued and won a claim at trial that the elimination of their funds and of potential state liability violated the constitution's retroactivity clause because it impaired the boards’ substantive right to accrued education funding. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the department's position that the retroactivity clause was historically interpreted to protect private parties, not arms of the state, relying on U.S. Supreme Court holdings that political subdivisions do not have the same rights as private corporations or individuals, and authority from other state courts concluding that legislatures may retroactively reclaim money from school district budgets. The case is Toledo City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. State Bd. of Edn. (Ohio May 4, 2016).
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The California Court of Appeals today affirmed the dismissal of a complaint that the state's education finance system violated the state constitution's fundamental right to an education. In Campaign for Quality Education v. California, the plaintiffs argued that article IX of the California constitution required the state to adequately fund education and that the state should be compelled to do so under court supervision. The complaint, brought by a coalition of non-profit organizations and guardians ad litem, alleged that California’s education funding scheme "fail[ed] to ensure that all public school children have the opportunity to become educationally proficient according to current legislatively-mandated academic standards," and that the legislature ignored a constitutional duty to provide an education of "some quality" to public schoolchildren. The appellate court concluded that article IX's text did not impose a judicially enforceable duty to provide an education of “some quality” nor did it require the state to maintain a certain standard of educational quality expressly or implicitly. The court, citing similar litigation in Illinois, also deferred to the the legislature and the political process to resolve educational finance issues. The court also held that the constitution did not provide for a minimal level of education expenditures. A copy of the case is here.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
We have not seen the complaint yet, but the New York Times reports that the pro-charter group, Families for Excellent Schools, along with eleven students, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) claiming that incidents of violence and bullying in public schools deprive students of their constitutional right to an education. Cribbled from Reuters: "The federal complaint, filed in Brooklyn on Wednesday, asserted that the "staggering" level of violence in city schools disproportionately affected minority students. "The violence knows few boundaries, except that, on average, white and Asian students encounter far fewer incidents of school violence than black and Hispanic students," the lawsuit said. It also claimed that younger students, disabled students and gay, lesbian and transgender students are targeted more frequently for abuse." The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to requires the NYCDOE to enforce already-existing procedures to keep students safe and to investigate acts of violence in schools. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has refuted allegations of widespread violence in city schools, pointing out that such incidents are on the decline. The group that has joined the plaintiffs, Families for Excellent Schools, was recently profiled in the Nation after its record-setting spending in recent state legislative campaigns and lobbying efforts.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Yesterday, plaintiffs sued North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, challenging the constitutionality of a newly-enacted House Bill 2 that prohibits cities and counties from adopting their own anti-discrimination ordinances and instead established a state anti-discrimination that does not include transgender persons as a protected class. In the complaint, Carcaño v. McCrory, the plaintiffs allege that H.B. 2 violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses because it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and is an invasion of privacy for transgender people. The plaintiffs further allege that the law violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex by requiring transgender persons to use bathrooms by the gender on their birth certificates, rather than their gender identity. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, with the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU of North Carolina representing the plaintiffs. Today, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that his office will not defend the constitutionality of H.B. 2. Cooper has opposed the state's efforts in other anti-LGBT measures such as the state's same-sex marriage provisions, saying last month that the state "has gone off the tracks." The ACLU of North Carolina applauded Cooper's stance that House Bill 2, saying in a statement that the law is "not only incompatible with the state's constitutional and legal obligations but also our shared values as North Carolinians. We’re grateful the Attorney General stands on the on the right side of history with the many cities, states, businesses and individuals who have come out against this harmful measure." The complaint is here.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
North Carolina Blocks Transgender Persons' Access To Public Facilities That Reflect Their Gender Identities
The state legislative trend continues to require transgender persons to use public facilities that align with the biological gender on their birth certificates rather than their gender identity. We've noted several state legislative efforts in this direction, most recently about Tennessee's law creating a lock-in exclusion for transgender students because another state law prohibited the state from recognizing sex changes on birth certificates. Yesterday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (H.B. 2), which requires that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings be used by persons only according to their biological sex. The new law also blocks local governments from enacting ordinances to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identities -- targeting Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance passed last month that allowed people to choose restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. When the Charlotte ordinance was passed, Gov. McCrory commented that the law was a threat to public safety, so the swift response by the N.C. General Assembly was expected. Responding to H.B. 2's passage, Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, stated on the ACLU website, "We are disappointed that Governor McCrory did not do right by North Carolina’s families, communities, and businesses by vetoing this horribly discriminatory bill, but this will not be the last word." More on the new law here.
Friday, March 11, 2016
We have been following the litigation challenging Nevada's school voucher law as violating provisions of the Nevada Constitution (Lopez v. Schwartz), here, here, and here. The litigation challenges Nevada's Senate Bill 302 which permitted parents to apply for educational grants for private schools, financed by deductions from local school districts' budgets. Yesterday, the Nevada Supreme Court denied a mandamus petition in the case, holding that the district court correctly denied the request of a group of parents to intervene in the case as defendants. A Nevada district court ruled in January that S.B. 302 violated state constitutional provisions requiring support for public education and is holding a trial on the merits. The parents sought permissive intervention as defendants, arguing that the January ruling prevented them from applying for vouchers for their children and that their perspective would assist the trial court "in focusing on the effect of the challenged law on its real beneficiaries, parents and children." The Nevada Supreme Court rejected the parents' arguments, finding that the parents shared the same interests and defenses as the main defendant, the Nevada state treasurer, in having S.B. 302 declared constitutional. The Nevada Supreme Court decision denying mandamus in Hairr v. First Jud. Dis. Ct., No. 69580 (Nev. Mar. 10, 2016), can be found here.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Frustrated With The Kansas Supreme Court That Struck Down The State Education Budget, Legislators Try To Expand The Grounds For Impeachment
We have been following the Kansas Supreme Court's repeated rejections of the state's education funding scheme here, here, and here over the last year. This week, a committee in the Kansas Senate is considering a bill that would make "attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government" grounds for impeachment. The bill was prompted by the court's rulings declaring that the state education budget an unconstitutional denial of the right to an education and other rulings that have antagonized the Republican-led legislature (four of the current justices were appointed by Democrat governors). The legislature has been looking for ways to limit the court's power but has found getting rid of the justices difficult. Kansas' supreme court judges only face retention elections every six years and can be voted out only if more than fifty percent of the electorate vote against them. Currently, justices can only be impeached for treason or serious misbehavior. Read more on this story at SFGate here.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Last year, Texas passed legislation requiring video surveillance of time-out or "calm" rooms used in special education classrooms to discipline students displaying behavioral problems. The law was passed after a Texas television news station broadcast a video of an eight-year-old autistic child being forced into a calm room. Several schools in the Dallas-Forth Worth schools acknowledged having similar rooms, which are about the size of a parking space. The law, intended to protect special-needs students from overaggressive teachers and staff, requires schools to install cameras and videotape interactions in every eligible special education classroom at a parent's request. Currently the law is an unfunded mandate (implementing the law could cost millions--about $3,000 per camera and related equipment--that Texas does not have), but even more troubling for some parents is that one parent could override other parents' objections to having their child videotaped daily. The law currently has no opt-out provision for parents concerned about their children's privacy, particularly as there are no guidelines on where or how long video will be stored. Read more at San Antonio ABC-News here.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
The Arizona Senate approved a bill Monday that would open the state’s school voucher program to every Arizona child. If Senate Bill 1279 becomes law, all of the state’s 1.1 million students would be eligible for publicly-funded grants to attend private school by 2020. Arizona’s voucher program, called the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), was created in 2011 to help children with disabilities attend schools that offered targeted services. The ESA program has been expanded through the years to include children of active-duty military members, children in foster care, certain kindergartners, children attending public schools that received a D or an F rating from the state, and to Native American students who live on reservations. Editors at the Arizona Republic newspaper write that if the bill becomes law, it would strip more money from the Arizona public education system that has already “endured some of the nation’s deepest cuts to public education.” The editorial is on the proposed expansion of the state’s voucher program is here.
The Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development recently issued a report evaluating the Race to the Top-enabled state Achievement School District (ASD). The ASD has the power to take over any school scoring in the bottom 5% through Tennessee's accountability system; thus far, it has taken over a number of schools, most of which are in Memphis and most of which are now operated as charter schools with the ASD as authorizer. The report's specific focus is on the way in which the ASD has struggled to build community buy-in for its reform agenda, particularly among those in the neighborhoods most directly impacted. The report points out that the political sustainability of these state takeover districts may be dependent on an ability to engage with and be responsive to local constituents. While that point may be somewhat apparent, the report does a pretty good job of documenting the specific dynamics in Memphis and could be useful as traditional school districts continue to cede power (often involuntarily) to non-local school operators.
Get the full report here.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Report: Thousands of Wisconsin Students Continue to Be Placed In Seclusion Or Restraints Despite 2012 Ban on Such Practices
Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW), along with two other community organizations, reports that seclusion and restraints continue to be used in Wisconsin’s public schools, despite the passage of a law in 2012 intended to reduce such measures. The report, called Seclusion & Restraint in Wisconsin Public School Districts 2013-2014: Miles to Go, "details how families continue to report instances in which children, even those as young as five, are being secluded and restrained repeatedly, sometimes daily," according to DRW. Eighty percent of the 3,585 Wisconsin students who were restrained or secluded were students with disabilities. Overall, Wisconsin's school districts reported 20,131 incidents of seclusion and restraint in the 2013/14 school year.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has taken up an interesting case that questions the powers of the state superintendent of education. In dispute is a 2011 law that requires all administrative rules to be approved by the governor. Under that law, the governor is asserting power over the state superintendent. But a state supreme court case from two decades ago, Thompson v. Craney, 546 N.W.2d 123, 134 (1996), held that the state superintendent is an independent head of the Department of Public Instruction. The relevant constitution text was amended in 1902 to read:
The supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the legislature shall direct; and their qualifications, powers, duties, and compensation shall be prescribed by law. The state superintendent shall be chosen by the qualified electors of the state at the same time and in the same manner as members of the supreme court, and shall hold his office for four years from the succeeding first Monday in July. The state superintendent chosen at the general election in November, 1902, shall hold and continue in his office until the first Monday in July, 1905, and his successor shall be chosen at the time of the judicial election in April, 1905. The term of office, time and manner of electing or appointing all other officers of supervision of public instruction shall be fixed by law.
The court concluded:
Our review of these sources demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the office of state Superintendent of Public Instruction was intended by the framers of the constitution to be a supervisory position, and that the “other officers” mentioned in the provision were intended to be subordinate to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Because the education provisions of 1995 Wis.Act 27 give the former powers of the elected state Superintendent of Public Instruction to appointed “other officers” at the state level who are not subordinate to the superintendent, they are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. If changes such as those proposed in 1995 Wis.Act 27 are to be made in the structure of educational administration—and we express no judgment on the possible merits of the changes—they would require a constitutional amendment.
That the current state law is in direct contradiction of this precedent. The state attorney general is asking the court to reverse Thompson and, thereby, bring the state superintendent under the control of the governor. I am guessing the the odds on this are long. The lower court, in a straightforward decision, has already ruled against the state. As it remarked in closing,
We reject th[e governor's] argument for reasons that should be obvious by now. The argument's premise, that the Governor's new power conferred by Act 21 gives the Governor “no power to fashion the text of a proposed rule,” is a premise Walker and Huebsch do not attempt to explain or defend. So far as we can tell, it is a premise that ignores reality. It seems beyond reasonable dispute that a Governor at loggerheads with an SPI over the content of a proposed rule, or proposed rule change, could use the threat to withhold approval as a means of affecting the rule content. Moreover, the analogy to the Governor's power to veto legislation is unpersuasive. As here, the threat of a Governor's veto can shape proposed legislation toward the Governor's preference. And, by constitutional design, a Governor's veto can be overridden by the legislature. Here, the Governor's approval authority is not similarly limited.
The case also has implications on a related phenomenon in other states: charter legislation that divests the state superintendent of educational authority. The Washington Supreme Court struck down that legislation earlier this year. What Washington and Wisconsin's legislature and governor fail to appreciate is that in those states where the superintendent of education is a constitutional officer, the state is not free to pass any education legislation that suits its fancy.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the Utica City School District yesterday for excluding Limited English Proficiency students from the district’s only high school and instead diverting them to unequal educational services that did not allow them to earn a high school diploma. The Attorney General's complaint alleges that the Utica district had a written policy that if district officials perceived an immigrant student to be Limited English Proficiency and over the age of 16, the student was told that he or she was "too old" to enroll at the district's high school, Proctor. In contrast, English-proficient students over age 16 were permitted to enroll at Proctor High School. The Office for Civil Rights' guidance for recent immigrant (“newcomer") programs were intended to be a bridge to general education classrooms and the district's educational services. The district's newcomer program did not meet the OCR guidelines that such programs be voluntary, of limited duration, integrated with the district's services and opportunities for other students, and designed to lead to transitioning to general education. Instead, the complaint alleges, for the past two school years the district outsourced its duty to educate LEP students to third parties, such as a local refugee center, in violation of federal and state civil rights statutes and Plyler v. Doe. The district steered LEP to students to alternatives that were "educational dead-end[s]." The few LEP students who managed to enroll at the high school were assigned to separate extra-curricular activities, lunch rooms, and buses from the rest of Proctor's students. A private class action suit alleging the same discriminatory conduct is pending against the Utica district (Tuyizere, et al. v. Utica City School District, et al. (C.A. No. 15-cv-488 (TJM-TWD)). The Attorney General's complaint in Schneiderman v. Utica City School District seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the district to change its discriminatory policies and agree to corrective oversight. The complaint is here.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
N.M. Supreme Court Holds That Instructional Materials Law That Benefitted Private Schools Is Unconstitutional
Following the majority of states, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled today that the use of public funds to provide free textbooks to private school students violated the state constitution. The state supreme court, interpreting Article XII, Section 3 of the N.M. Constitution (which forbids the use of public funds for “the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university”), struck down the state's Instructional Material Law (IML), which allowed public funds to be used to lend instructional materials to public and private school students. The petitioners in the case are parents who challenged the IML as unconstitutional because it forced them to support religious private schools through public fund and parents sued N.M. Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. The parents' case was dismissed after the district court granted the Department's summary judgment motion; the N.M. Court of Appeals affirmed. In reversing the Court of Appeals, the state supreme court noted that while the lower court believed that the state constitution only protected against the establishment of religion -- similar to the federal constitution's Establishment Clause -- the N.M. Constitution actually prohibits providing materials for students attending private schools generally, "whether such schools are secular or sectarian." The supreme court reversed and remanded the case for the district court to find that the IML violated the state constitution. The case is Moses v. Skandera, No. 34,974 (N.M. Nov. 12, 2015).
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Earlier this summer the Washington Post reported that a U.K. based English tutoring school changed its name from ISIS Schools to prevent confusion with the terror group called ISIS. Many companies around the world are doing that. What stood out was the ease with which ISIS Schools did it, compared with the hand-wringing that we go through in the United States to replace offensive or anachronistic school names. California just took a step forward Sunday with Governor Jerry Brown signing the California Racial Mascots Act, which prohibits public schools from using the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname beginning January 1, 2017. California the first state to ban the use of the term "Redskins." Gov. Brown declined, however, to sign SB 539, which would have prohibited "the use of an elected leader or senior military officer of the Confederate States of America to name state or local property." Gov. Brown said in a veto statement that "[l]ocal governments are laboratories of democracy which are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom."
Friday, October 16, 2015
Eleventh Circuit: Ala. Education Assoc. Not Entitled To Discovery About Legislators' Subjective Intent In Passing Law Limiting Use of Funds
The Eleventh Circuit held yesterday that the Alabama Education Association (AEA) could not enforce subpoenas for lawmakers' files in its suit claiming that state Republicans retaliated against the association by eliminating automatic state payroll deductions for membership dues used for political activity. In 2010, the Alabama Legislature passed Act 761, which prohibited payroll deductions for state and local public-sector employee association dues if membership dues funded political activity. The AEA sued under sec. 1983, claiming that Act 761 violated its First Amendment rights because the the subjective motivations of lawmakers in passing the Act governmental retaliation against the AEA for its political speech on education policy. During the suit, the AEA sought subpoenas to show that state Republicans retaliated against the association by passing the restriction on payroll deductions of its members. Alabama legislators responded that legislative privilege shielded them from the AEA’s subpoenas to probe lawmakers' motivations for passing Act 761. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the legislators. While acknowledging that the AEA's First Amendment claim was an important federal interest, that interest did not yield to legislative privilege. The circuit court distinguished those cases in which the federal interest would outweigh legislative privilege, such as a criminal prosecution. The court held, "the First Amendment does not support the kind of claim AEA makes here: a challenge to an otherwise constitutional statute based on the subjective motivations of the lawmakers who passed it." The Eleventh Circuit further relied on the Supreme Court's holding in United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), that, as a “principle of constitutional law,” courts cannot “strike down an otherwise constitutional statute on the basis of an alleged illicit legislative motive.” The case is In Re: Bentley, 13-10382 (Hubbard v. Alabama Education Association) here.
Friday, September 25, 2015
California School Board Association Sues State For Lowering Education Budget By $150 Million Through Legislative "Manipulations"
An alliance of school boards has sued California officials this week alleging that the state legislature "manipulated" what is included in the state's minimum education spending guarantee and thus violated the California Constitution's Article XVI, sec. 8, called Proposition 98. In the complaint filed September 22 by the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and Education Legal Alliance, the plaintiffs explain that Proposition 98 requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on K-12 public schools and community college districts. In 2011, the legislature moved childcare spending out of the education budget and adjusted or "rebenched" the minimum education spending guarantee to reflect the missing amount. When some childcare costs were added back in the current 2015-16 budget, however, the legislature did not readjust or "rebench" the minimum educational spending requirement, thus decreasing the minimum guarantee of Proposition 98 by $150-$180 million, the plaintiffs allege. The CSBA says that it does not object to childcare expenditures being part of the education formula, but does object to the legislature's inconsistency in defining what is part of Proposition 98's minimum spending guarantee. Read the complaint in California School Boards Association v. Cohen here.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
The Education Law Center and ACLU of New Jersey issued this press release:
On September 1, several New Jersey students and their families filed a lawsuit challenging the NJ Department of Education’s (NJDOE) attempt to impose new exams and other fee-based tests as requirements for high school graduation without adopting new regulations as required by law.
The lawsuit, T.B., et al. v. NJ Department of Education, contends that NJDOE failed to follow existing regulations or propose new ones under the NJ Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when Commissioner of Education David Hespe announced that new graduation requirements would apply to this September’s incoming senior class.