Monday, October 28, 2013
Last week, I posted on the uniqueness of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's suit against the state board of education for engaging in secret meetings. I was most interested in how the courts would react here as compared to suits filed by students. Before the courts do anything, however, the case is already taking a surprising twist. Four of the state board's members penned an open letter asking her to drop the suit. The full text of the letter is after the jump.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Students from a Dallas Fort Worth School allege that a music teacher separated the African American students from the white students and then demeaned the African American students, including calling them "stupid." Charges of racism are now being leveled at the teacher. The district is investigating. In my attempt to track down the facts-- which are pretty fuzzy--on thisstory, I ran across a few other similar stories. I would have thought that blatant classroom discrimination segregation would be an isolated story, but two stories suggest it may not be.
The first story relates to another teacher in Minnesota calling African American students "fat" and "stupid" in class. The families subsequently filed a discrimination lawsuit. If these were only isolated statements, they would be unlikely to lead to liability under Title VI, but the claim is that the teacher had repeatedly used such language and the school had refused to address it, which makes their claim stronger.
The second story was not malevolent, but even more remarkable. In 2011, school officials in Lancaster, PA admitted to segregating African American students from the rest of a school's students and then dividing the African American students further by gender. The separation is purportedly brief, lasting just six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month. When brought to light, the officials defended the plan, indicating it was motivated by their desire to address the specific challenges that African American students face and to close the achievement gap. The school, however, seems to be overlooking its own biases as one of the likely causes of the underachievement of African American students. That these biases are in play is reinforced by their stereotypical notion that African Americans are the only students in the district with risk factors that need to be singled out and that all African Americans are seriously at risk. Were these assumptions not below the surface, the total and rigid segregation of African American students would have been illogical to the district. In short, the district appears to have been well intentioned, but good intentions do not keep bias or discrimination at bay.
In 2013, Pittsburgh Public Schools district rolled out its plan to deal with financial and academic problems in a report called “Envisioning Educational Excellence: A Plan for All of Pittsburgh's Children." Among other things, the plan calls for school closures. But a group of parents and educators called the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition, are worried that closing more schools will exacerbate the district’s problems, as we've seen in Philadelphia and Chicago this school year. (See Derek and Danielle Holley-Walker's posts about Philadelphia’s Perfect Storm, here and here.) GPS is even more concerned that the Envisioning plan (financed in part by the Gates Foundation), chose ineffective methods to gather community input about the school closures. Community views were solicited primarily through a few one-on-one meetings with selected parents and online surveys and feedback. The problem is that some parents, who are living at or near the poverty line, do not have ready access to the online tools that Envisioning used to gauge community views. Envisioning’s authors may have already decided what the affected communities' views would be—that closing schools as reform measures is disfavored. One part of the plan is to change “community attitudes” so PPS will learn “how reform-minded urban districts have driven change in … community attitudes, values, and buy-in.” So GPS instead went door-to-door to ask nearly 1,000 parents what they thought about school closures in their communities. The graphic below is a snapshot of the survey results. Read what else the community had to say at Yizercation, What Pittsburghers are Really Saying about School Closures.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The lion's share of education law cases involve students, teachers, and organizations suing school officials. Courts are often reluctant to engage in these cases, with school discipline being the prime example. I, of course, argue that our nation, as well as our schools, are bound by the rule of law. Thus, when constitutional and statutory rights are at risk, courts must engage in a full good faith analysis of the issues.
Yesterday brought news of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, filing suit against the state board of education. She argues that Governor Mike Pence is attempting to strip her of constitutional authority as chair of the state board of education by encouraging the state board to hold secret meetings without her. Doing so, she argues, violates the state's open meetings law. The underlying substance of those meetings involves changing the quality rating system for the state's schools, a significant issue, of course.
I will keep you posted on the courts' receptivity to her claims.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
As noted earlier this week, the situation in Philadelphia's schools had descended into the chaos of a perfect storm. One would think that the Governor eventually would have had to act. The death of a 12 year old girl after a day at school where the nurse had been dismissed due to budget cuts is not the sort of thing a Governor wants to defend. Yesterday, Governor Corbett stepped up and released $45 million so that Philadelphia schools could rehire teachers and assign students back to their normal classrooms (some were apparently in split grade classrooms). A lot of credit goes to civil rights leaders from outside the state, like Wade Henderson, David Sciarra, Ben Jealous and Marc Morial, for putting the Philadelphia schools under a microscope and then shining a national spotlight on them. Once they did so, the Governor acted quicker than most.
This important victory, however, may be shortlived because the underlying problem remains untouched. Philadelphia, and several other districts in the state, are in this mess because the Governor abandoned the funding formula that Governor Rendell had enacted. Forty-seven other states in the country understand that school funding must be based on enrollments, demographics, and local costs (even if their formulas do not perfectly reflect these factors). Governor Corbett returned Pennsylvania to the dark ages of school funding when he abandoned Rendell's formula and appears content to stay there. For more discussion on the formula, see David Sciarra's essay from yesterday.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Derek recently wrote about the financial hits that St. Louis area schools are taking under Missouri’s new transfer law. Under the Missouri scheme, unaccredited school districts have to pay tuition and transportation costs for the 2,600 transferring students who have used the law so far. Recently, however, Missouri lawmakers are realizing that the law has an unanticipated cost—families are taking advantage of the student transfer option to establish residency in unaccredited districts then immediately transferring their children to accredited schools. These “bouncing” transfers can get students into higher-rated suburban schools that would be otherwise unavailable because of residency requirements. Nothing in the Missouri statute stops such “bouncing” transfers or caps the number of transfers that families can have in a school semester. Nor do students have to enroll or attend an unaccredited shool -- they just have to establish residence in that district. State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal told the St. Louis Beacon yesterday that the law allows families “to just move into an unaccredited district, then turn around right away and transfer elsewhere, [which] amounts to “educational larceny.” Lawmakers are finding it difficult to count how many families are using the loophole because of transience rate in city schools is already high. Sen. Chappelle-Nadal estimates that the unaccredited Normandy High School could run out of money by next March. Read more here.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) has found that school district Florence County School District 1 failed to correct violations of federal disability law after three complaints were filed within a year involving the same family. On September 20, the SCDE sent a third resolution letter showing that Florence 1 violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on eleven occasions and failed to follow through with corrective actions in previous SCDE directions. The SCDE had sent two prior resolution letters, one in November 2012, for a student in Florence 1, and another in July 2013, for a complaint involving the student’s younger brother because his academic resource class did not have a certified special education teacher. Relations between the students’ mother and Florence 1 became so heated that the mother was arrested following an argument at the school when she arrived to get her son and school staff could not tell her where he was. The family’s third complaint was filed in late July 2013, alleging that Florence 1 was still not complying with the IDEA. The school district’s officials told the Florence Morning News that they are puzzled that SCDE continued accepting their compliance plans without comment but then found them wanting after complaints were filed. Nevertheless, the principal of North Vista Elementary, where one of the brothers attends school, is taking the SCDE’s action as constructive criticism, saying, “We want to learn from [the decision] and want to improve for all students.” Disability law issues in Florence County are doubtless sensitive as the U.S. Supreme Court found that one of its districts violated the IDEA twenty years ago in Florence District Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993). Read more about the findings in Florence 1 District here.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Earlier this year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a two track diploma system into law: one for students heading to college and others who are not, but hopefully heading into work. The obvious hope is to do a better job of making high school graduates career ready. Some believe this will also help some kids who might otherwise drop-out stay in school. On the one hand, I credit Florida for taking steps to doing what other states are loath to do: deliver quality vocational programs. States resist because it suggests they are lowering standards and giving up on students. But as one of my former students, Nina Frant, compellingly argued in The Inadequate Resume of School Education Plans, 51 How. L.J. 819 (2008), many school finance decisions articulating the state's obligation to deliver an adequate education focus equally on college and career readiness. Yet, the response of almost all education systems has been solely in regard to college readiness. The practical result, she argues, is that schools do a disservice to and forget about students who are not going to college. If Florida really intends to serve these otherwise ignored students, it deserves credit for taking on this issue.
On the other hand, separate tracks have long since been a mechanism through which bias and inequality operate. Individual school administrators' perceptions of who is and is not college material can be as much, if not more, a function of the administrator's bias as the student's ability. The result is stark racial imbalance in the tracks. If Florida is serious about improving education through its dual track education, it must be equally serious about eradicating the biases that will surely affect it.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
At the start of the school year, I posted about the continuing expansion and rise in school fees and the constitutional problems they potentially present. Now comes a story out of Colorado noting the rise in the state's school fees and how unpaid fees can mount over time for some families. When those unpaid fees reach a certain level--$250--some schools are turning families over to a collection agency.
While I object to the fees in the first instance, I can appreciate the schools' frustration with people who can pay but just won't. After all, it is unfair for the costs of fees to be unevenly distributed. On the other hand, it is possible, if not likely, that many of these families are low-income or just struggling, even though they may not have formally been classified as such. Turning poor, or near-poor, families over to collection agencies for educational services that the state mandates they receive seems perverse, if not unconstitutional. The ACLU of Colorado is now pressing this latter point of whether the fees implemented by some local school districts violate the state's guarantee to a free education. Mark Silverstein of the ACLU said:"As far as I can tell, in Colorado the state constitution provides for a free public education, not a fee public education. It's almost as though some school districts got a flawed copy of the state constitution and the 'R' was missing." One parent laments that some children do not get to participate in extracurricular activities due to the fees: "It's getting to the point where it is going to separate the haves and have-nots, and that doesn't seem right to me." See more here.
Monday, September 30, 2013
On Friday, the Mississippi Board of Education was told that it must takeover any school next year that receives a third consecutive "F" on its state academic report card. Under Mississippi's 2010 "New Start School" law (MS Stat. § 37-167-1), schools that fail to get a "C" or above in their third probationary year must go into conservatorship. The Board member in charge of conservatorships, Larry Drawdy, estimated that the Board may have to take control of 30 schools next fall, which means terminating schools' entire staff--from principals to custodians. Drawdy called the law "wrongheaded" and warned that it may be impossible to takeover that many schools at once. Board members also expressed dismay about the mandatory dismissals of non-program staff. Under the New Start School law, the schools will be placed under the administration of the Mississippi Recovery School District. A new superintendent can then either rehire school staff or start fresh. The State Board of Education is also seeking to take over the Claiborne County and Leflore County school districts this month. The Board controls six school districts in the state. Fifty schools got failing grades this year for a second year; 92 schools in Mississippi currently have "F" ratings. Mississippi has 151 school districts.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Early this summer, I posted on the rising tensions in Missouri, where a statute authorized the transfer of students out of failing schools and districts to surrounding districts. In other words, the state had authorized the crucial interdistrict transfers or reassignments that the Supreme Court had long ago forbade federal courts from ordering in Milliken v. Bradley. As advocates and researchers have lamented ever since, interdistrict reassignments are the only hope of integration in most metropolitan areas.
After the enactment of the Missouri statute, thousands of students in St. Louis and Kansas City have availed themselves of this opportunity. The problem was that the surrounding districts claimed they could not accommodate them and the districts loosing them claimed they could not afford the financial hit because the students' per pupil expenditures would leave with them.
To the surprise of many, the surrounding districts were able to absorb these students and work out the logistics of enrolling them in a very short time period. The financial fears of the districts from which these students departed, however, are coming true. Edweek reports that some districts are on the edge of bankruptcy. Normandy school district, for instance, has an operating budget of $49 million, but will loose $14 million under the statute's funding shifts. The hope is that the state will come up with a fix for these districts. These districts were already unaccredited, which is the basis for the transfers, and have little hope of reaccreditation in the context of bankruptcy.
I would grade this statute as a good job half-way done. Interdistrict transfers are a great solution to the ills of school segregation. For that reason, I have consistently argued that Congress must similarly use its Title I funds to incentivize integrative transfers, but I also point out that Congress must include hold-harmless provisions for the schools left behind. Otherwise, Congress would be helping some students at the expense of others. Moreover, hold-harmless provisions theoretically free up resources for the original schools because they now have fewer students. This could present the opportunity for them to take steps to improvement rather than just treading water. Let's hope Missouri can come up with the money and sense to achieve this end. For more on using Title I to facilitate integration and improve schools, see here.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Even though Louisiana's fiscal effort levels rank at the bottom of the nation, its funding formula is slightly regressive (sending less money to the neediest districts), and many of its school facilities can only be described as deplorable, litigants have never been able to break through with a school funding victory. Courts have fallen back on the notion that the state constitution only requires a "minimum" education. See, e.g., Jones v. State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, 927 So.2d 426 (La. App. 1 Cir. Nov. 4, 2005); Charlet v. Legislature of the State of Louisiana, 713 So.2d 1199 ((La. App. 1 Cir. 1998). Although not an attack on the state's funding practices as a whole, litigants did get a victory earlier this year in Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State, 2013 WL 1878913 (Supreme Court of Louisiana, 2013). See also LaJuana's post on the case from earlier this summer.
The case was brought by teachers, school boards and parents. The primary theory of the case was that the state's voucher program diverted funds away from public schools to non-public schools in violation of the state constitution. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, reasoning that while the state constitution only mandates a minimum education program, once the state determines the cost of the minimum program, it cannot then take a portion of those minimum funds and give them to nonpublic schools. Doing so necessarily drops support of the public schools below "minimum."
I revisit this case for two reasons. First, it is an example of courts' willingness to intervene in school funding if they can identify a technical violation, even if they they have previously indicated an unwillingness to address substantive questions of school funding. Recognizing this technical versus substantive approach, we have seen a few other cases this summer attack charters and/or vouchers on technical constitutional grounds. Second, this victory early this summer adds further context to the current DOJ lawsuit to block the voucher program (although it is not softening on the notion of "blocking" the program). The DOJ suit is based on federal desegregation law, whereas Louisiana Federation of Teachers is based on state law, but the plaintiffs victory this summer shows how embattled the state's voucher program is. Right or wrong, the Governor is understandably testy over one of the state's signature programs. He is obviously unwilling to let it sink without a big fight.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) and the Atlanta Board of Education could not withhold $38.6 million from charter schools to pay APS’s pre-existing unfunded pension liability. Under Georgia law, local charter schools are entitled to a proportional share of its school system’s local revenue. Last year, the APS decided deduct money from local revenue for charter start-up schools to help cover a $550 million unfunded pension liability for APS employees that has been accruing since the 1980s. Charter schools sued to force APS to distribute the money without any deduction for APS’s pension liability, arguing that they should not have to pay for debts that they had not incurred. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the charter schools’ position that the statutory funding formula in Georgia’s Charter Schools Act did not authorize the APS to subtract the $38.6 million from its calculation of local revenue. The Supreme Court determined that because the statute established a separate and distinct local revenue funding formula for start-up charter schools, the General Assembly intended to fund local schools unequally with regard to local revenue. Read the opinion in Atlanta Independent School System, et al. v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc., et al. here.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A la the thesis of Diane Ravitch's new book, which I posted on yesterday, it is worth stepping back to consider what is really going on with the takeover of six Virginia schools. As LaJuana posted a few days ago, the state passed legislation creating the Opportunity Educational Institution, which grants this entity the power to take over schools that have failed to gain accreditation four years in a row. At least one district has filed suit arguing that the takeover violates the state constitution. Putting the constitutional issues aside for a moment, the persistant failure to meet accreditation standards suggests that these schools are in crisis, but are they? And if so, who is to blame?
The state's accreditation standards require elementary and middle schools to achieve the following pass rates: English – 75 percent or higher; Mathematics – 70 percent or higher; Science – 70; percent or higher; and History – 70 percent or higher. High schools are fully accredited if students "achieve pass rates of 75 percent or higher in English and 70 percent or higher in mathematics, science and history; and [a]ttain a point value of 85 or greater based on the Graduation and Completion Index (GCI)." (For further definition of the GCI see here). These flat and simple standards are the whole of the accreditation requirements.
One of the six schools in the state that has failed to meet this standard is Jefferson-Houston (formerly an elementary school, now a pre-k through 8 school) in Alexandria. The school rests on the edge of Old Town Alexandria, one of the DC area's most affluent neighborhoods. When I lived in the DC area, my home happened to be less than a mile from Jefferson-Houston. We didn't live in Old Town, but our son, had he been old enough, would have been assigned to Jefferson-Houston. The school's name also carries special meaning to me. Jefferson is in reference to Thomas Jefferson and Houston is in reference to Charles Hamilton Houston, former Dean of Howard Law School and the original architect of the NAACP's desegregation strategy.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Just last week, I posted on a Connecticut court rejecting a student's cause of action under the state's anti-bullying statute. In contrast, the Old Bridge School Board in New Jersey settled an anti-bullying case for 60,000 last week. New Jersey's anti-bullying law is considered the toughest in the nation. It was a response to the public outcry over the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, in 2010. The explicit mandates and clarity of the New Jersey law seems to have made all the difference.
This clarity has a huge upside statewide. Knowing the risks of litigation, districts will respond quicker and more effectively to bullying. Those who do not will suffer the consequences. The trouble is discerning what amounts to "bullying" around the margins. All "bullying" is serious and I, in no way, mean to minimize it. Schools should be held accountable for the failure to stop it. But some schools overreact and punish behavior that is not bullying. From many schools' perspective, it is better to be safe (as in not get sued) than sorry. This is the same approach we saw schools take with zero tolerance policies on weapons and drugs, which has lead to the expulsion of children with finger clips, butter knives in their lunch boxes, and tylenol in their purse. New Jersey has apparently already seen some potential overreactions/over-broad applications with bullying. None of this is to find flaw in the law, but to point out the potential serious downside of applying laws without a good dose of common sense and judgment. Unfortunately, those dreaded professional development workshops might be of some use here.
Friday, September 20, 2013
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) removed a proposal from its agenda yesterday that would have eliminated all state rules on special education class size. The ISBE move is not unusual, as similar measures have been proposed in D.C., New York, North Carolina, Philadelphia, and Rhode Island. Since the beginning of the year, the ISBE proposed repealing Sections 226.730 and 226.731 of the Illinois Administrative Code that limit class sizes for self-contained special education classrooms and place a 30 percent limit on students with IEPs in a general education classroom (called the 70/30 rule). ISBE administrators say that Illinois’ requirements exceed the requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and “its implementing regulations and have resulted in several unintended consequences.” One of those consequences, State Superintendent of Education, Christopher Koch, said on Monday, was that Illinois’ current rules “interfere with decisions for students that would best be made at the local level.” Koch noted that “Illinois is no longer under the Corey H. settlement agreement and our data shows that these artificial limits are actually keeping students with disabilities out of general education classrooms.” Despite the ISBE’s arguments that eliminating class size requirements “will best ensure that each student with disabilities … has access to the broad array of coursework available to his or her nondisabled peers, particularly in the middle grades and high school,” parents and advocacy groups fiercely opposed the proposal. Bev Johns, Chair of the Illinois Special Education Coalition, said in a posted message that “[e]veryone else testifying, special ed groups, disability organizations, parents, the IEA, IFT and CTU, other teachers, etc.” opposed the ISBE proposal. The Illinois Special Education Coalition is a coalition of parent and educator organizations interested in the education of students with disabilities.
In 2002, the Connecticut Legislature enacted an anti-bullying statute that directed schools to come up with policies and procedures to address and prevent bullying. In the wake of high profile bullying incidents that led to the victims' suicide or other serious harm, Connecticut reenacted and strengthened the statute in 2011. The current statute broadly defines bullying and harassment and provides that "Each local and regional board of education shall develop and implement a safe school climate plan to address the existence of bullying in its schools." Conn. Gen. Statute 10-222d. It further specifies 17 different responsibilities, structures, and procedures that must be included in the plan and complied with. Id. The statute does not include an explicit cause of action.
Some prior courts had addressed the existence of cause of action under the old version of the statute, but Mazzo v. Town of Fairfield Bd. of Educ., 2013 WL 4872203 (Sup. Ct. of Conn. 2013), appears to be a case of first impression regarding the newly enacted version of the statute. Plaintiff's primary argument appeared to be that Conn. Gen. Statute 10-222l evidences intent to create of cause of action because, while that section speaks to immunity, it conditions that immunity on good faith compliance with the statute. In other words, plaintiff argues that a basic failure to attempt to comply with the Act is not granted immunity and, thus, is actionable under the act.