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.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
At the beginning of the charter school experiment, charter school advocates touted their ability to provide a superior education at a lower cost than traditional public schools. Now, we are seeing the charter lobby abandon that claim and turn to the courts to demand equal funding for charter schools. In Texas, charter school advocates recently lost their claim for equal funding. In New York, charter school advocates have sued for equal facilities funding. In a ruling that may have wide ramifications, last week an Arizona appellate court affirmed a lower court's ruling that the differential funding systems for public and charter schools do not violate Arizona's constitution.
In Craven v. Huppenthal, parents of children in Arizona charter schools sued the state, claiming that Arizona's school funding scheme was unconstitutional because it caused "gross disparities between charter public schools and other public schools." The lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and defendant-intervenors the Arizona School Boards Association and Creighton Elementary School District No. 14. The plaintiff-parents appealed.
Three months ago, the U.S. Department of Education revoked Oklahoma's No Child Left Behind waiver because the state was no longer in compliance with one of the conditions of receiving a waiver: adopting college and career ready academic standards. Oklahoma initially met that condition by adopting the Common Core standards, but the state repealed the standards this summer. The Department quickly revoked its waiver.
Since then, the state has scrambled to get the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to review the state's old academic standards--Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS)--and deem them college and career ready. The Regents did so and the Department of Education agreed. This meant that Oklahoma was once again in compliance with the conditions of its waiver and the Department reinstated it. Thus, on its face, the simple answer to why Oklahoma got its waiver back is that it had adopted college and career ready standards, even if those standards were not the Common Core standards. But history suggests there may be much more to it than that.
Monday, November 24, 2014
President Obama's announcement that he would shield undocumented immigrants from deportation has only emboldened claims that his administration is grossly overstepping the bounds of permissible executive action. Detractors seek to lump immigration, environment, health care, and education policy all together as overarching evidence of an administration acting as a monarch.
Most of the claims, however, ignore a major distinction between the administration's No Child Left Behind waivers and all the other executive action that enervates them. In the other areas, the executive action is to not enforce some existing law. The administration is exercising the equivalent of prosecutorial discretion. The discretion to not enforce the law in some particular instances is well established and amounts to no more than an administrative decision of how to utilize scarce administrative resources (even though the practical policy ramifications are clearly high with immigration, for instance).
NCLB waivers are entirely distinct. The administration did not simply decide to waive or not enforcement NCLB requirements. It supplanted them with an entirely new set of conditions, found nowhere in NCLB. In this respect, the administration made new law, rather than just waiving old law. The distinction makes a world of difference constitutionally and under the relevant statutes. I flesh out these distinctions in detail here. While most conservative commentators entirely miss this point, Neal McClusky of the Cato Institute, to his credit, makes this distinction in his article, Illegal “No Child” Waivers Should Raise Much Louder Alarms.
As a side note, Edweek explains what Obama's immigration announcement means for education here.
This from the Economic Policy Institute:
On Friday, December 5, at 10:00 a.m. ET, the Economic Policy Institute will host a debate between noted scholars on affirmative action in American higher education, featuring Georgetown University Law Professor Sheryll Cashin and Richard Rothstein, a research associate at EPI. They will be joined by American University Law Professor Lia Epperson, and Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Cadwalader Report on UNC Prompts Class Action Complaint Alleging "Shadow Curriculum" for Football Players
The NCAA faces interesting times as it defends its role as integrating student-athletes’ education with playing collegiate sports. In the pending case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, O’Bannon v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, No. 14-16601, the NCAA will defend its rules prohibiting compensation of student athletes by arguing that those rules protect students from exploitation. But the evidence is mounting that NCAA member schools are themselves exploiting students, and the NCAA will have to justify its amateurism defense against claims that colleges promise student-athletes an education through sports scholarships but are still failing to deliver on that promise for many players. A former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) student alleges just that point in a suit filed earlier this month. Former UNC football player Michael McAdoo filed a federal class action complaint against the school, alleging that the Cadwalader Report investigation, which found that that UNC faculty and staff created a “shadow curriculum” for its football players that required little or no academic rigor from 1993 until 2011, shows that UNC officials knew about and facilitated that curriculum. In his complaint, Mr. McAdoo alleges that he wanted to take criminal justice classes but when he arrived at UNC, but football players were steered into three majors: Exercise Sport Science, Communications, or African-American Studies. McAdoo states that he was told these were the only majors that would accommodate his football practice and playing schedule, and that the football program had “relationships” with professors in those departments. McAdoo seeks injunctive relief including, among other things, a court appointee to review football players’ academic schedules for five years and that UNC give four-year guaranteed scholarships to all football student-athletes. McAdoo has sued UNC before in state court after the school declared him ineligible to play college football after he was found to have committed academic misconduct. That complaint was dismissed. McAdoo’s class action complaint can be found on Westlaw: McAdoo v. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2014 WL 5823326 (M.D.N.C.) (filed November 6, 2014).
New Report Ranks Massachusetts Among the Worst for Racial Disparities in Discipline, and Its Charters Schools the Worst of the Worst
The Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has released a new report on school discipline in the state, Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts. The report makes four major findings:
1. Massachusetts' students missed a minimum of 208,605 days in the classroom due to disciplinary removal. During the 2012-13 school year, Massachusetts’ public school students were suspended (in-school and out-of-school), expelled, and removed to an alternative setting a combined 128,599 times. These punishments resulted in at least 208,605 days - the equivalent of 1,160 students missing the entire school year - during which students were removed from their regular classrooms.
Angelica Jongco shared a new report from Public Advocates on forced parental work policies at charters yesterday. The report, Charging for Access: How California Charter Schools Exclude Vulnerable Students by Imposing Illegal Family Work Quotas,
researched 555 charter schools in California and found that almost one-third of them (30%) require parents to do work at the school for a set quota of hours. This practice is illegal under the California constitution and the Education Code. In our report, we expose the extent of the practice and explain why it is illegal. We have sent a demand letter to the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education urging them to take immediate steps to abolish the practice. At our online appendix, we provide a list of all the charter schools we found that have such a practice, with a link to their policy documents.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
As a followup to yesterday's post on isolation practices, the explanation another district for its isolation rooms is worth noting. The Center Consolidated School District, Colorado, has been using isolated study in 4 foot by 6 foot rooms as an alternative punishment to expulsion for ten years. The district reasons that isolation is preferable to classroom disruption or school exclusion. The former harms other students. The latter harms the disciplined student and the school, based on the likely effects on dropout rates. According to the superintendent, parents are given the choice between expulsion and isolation, in which students will be provided study materials. During the last 10 years, about 40 students have been placed in isolation and, over the last year alone, the dropout rate plummeted from 13% to less than 2%.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
According to a four month investigation by local news sources, Mansfield Independent School District in Texas put elementary school students in isolation rooms on 800 different occasions last year. The district's documents refer to the rooms as “blue rooms,” “recovery rooms,” “calm rooms,” and “isolation centers.” The districts intends to no longer use the latter term. Records also indicate that some students are placed in the room "for the remainder of the day," which begs the question of how long students are kept in the rooms. Equally disturbing, state law does not require that the schools notify parents of the isolation and, thus, this may breaking news to some.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Yesterday, a group called Students for Fair Representation filed lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, alleging that the universities' consideration of race in admissions violates Title VI and Equal Protection (in North Carolina complaint). The complaints are highly charged in tone, allegation, and legal analysis. They remind one more of the sort of allegations one would have found in lawsuits challenging racial discrimination and segregation during the 1960s and 1970s. This comparison is neither to disparage nor to validate the complaints, but merely to highlight the raw emotion and sense of injustice that the current complaints convey on behalf of the clients (or attorneys), which is noteworthy in and of itself.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Acting at the direction of the state legislature, the Washington State Governor’s Office of Education Ombuds has produced a report titled On the Creation of a Statewide Special Education Task Force. The basic recommendation of the Office is that the state legislature, superintendent of public instruction, and governor should create a Blue Ribbon Commission to identify obstacles to learning and propose improvement strategies. The report recommends that the focus not be exclusively on special education. Instead, the goal should be an inclusive education system that improves education for students identified as having special education needs at the same time that it delivers supports to other students who need them. The commission would consist of: two co-chairs, one with a record of educational leadership and one who can represent children and parent interests; three educators; two parent representatives; four agency leaders, including representatives of the superintendent of public instruction, the secretary of social and health services, the department of early learning, and the state student achievement council; the director of the office of education ombuds; one expert in neuroscience research, neurodiversity, or diverse learning styles; and one expert in classroom design that promotes inclusive and differentiated instruction.
Earlier this month, a Greenacres, Florida, police officer allegedly broke a 14 year old female student's arm while trying to restrain her. The arm break, of course, is grabbing the headlines, but interesting legal are implicated by the facts leading up to the physical contact. According to local reports, the officer approached the student because he believed she was in possession of a video of a fight he was investigating. He said she became uncooperative and tried to get past him to move away and pushed him back in the process. At that point, he grabbed her arm, she began to twist and turn, he began to move her arm behind her back, and it allegedly broke.
Friday, November 14, 2014
The Department of Education released its guidance yesterday on the renewal of No Child Left Behind waivers. Three things strike me as extremely important in the guidance. First, the guidance adheres to the same four conditions for an NCLB waiver that the Department first announced in 2012. Thus, there is no change in policy direction. Second, while the Department maintains the same policy agenda, it has softened on how and when a state might meet the waiver conditions. In regard to all of the conditions, the guidance invites states to explain and justify their actions, and focus on progress toward meeting the conditions, as opposed to having already met them. Most notable is in regard to teacher evaluations. A states can delay implementing their system, if they can check these two boxes on the waiver renewal form:
On November 10, 2014, Pennsylvania students and parents, school districts, and two statewide associations filed a lawsuit charging that the state's school funding system deprives students of their right to a "thorough and efficient" education, as guaranteed by the state constitution.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of devastating cuts to teachers, support staff, programs, and essential resources in Philadelphia, Reading, York, and many other high-poverty rural and urban communities across the state.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The on-going spectacle surrounding the closure of Philadelphia's Walter D. Palmer Charter School highlights the challenges that states and school districts face when charter schools abruptly close. For Palmer, among other claims of financial mismanagement, the school was forced to close immediately this October when it enrolled 1,300 in grades K-12 although the Philadelphia school district was only required to reimburse Palmer for 675 students in grades K-8. Stories like Palmer's emergency closure stranding students during the school year are echoed around the country, but in isolation, those stories seem insignifcant and anecdotal. But as states begin to realize that they are not getting better academic outcomes if they saddle local public school districts with hundreds of extra students when a charter school closes abruptly, the laws authorizing charters and allowing them operate without significant oversight are being questioned this week in Florida (and more Florida here) and North Carolina. Education Week also reported last on Arizona's efforts to limit the damage when charter schools fail here.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, Muslim community leaders requested that the school district close school on the holy day of Eid al-Adha. Their rationale was that school is closed on major Christian and Jewish holidays and that it would be equitable to close on the Muslim holiday as well. While Muslim students' absences on religious holidays are excused, they still miss important classroom time and their families wanted to avoid this. Thus, community leaders argued the only fair thing to do would be to close on Eid al-Adha as well.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision in its long running school finance case today. The Court affirmed, with modifications, the trial court decision on behalf of the plaintiff school districts. The Court emphasized that the winners in the case were the students in the plaintiff school districts. It also emphasized that although neither the state nor the school districts in this case had carried out their duties in education, there are no losers in the case. This is not the time to cast blame, but a time to move forward with solutions. The opinion is here.
With Republicans controlling both the House and Senate now, the chances of some form of reauthorization, even if just piecemeal, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act go up. That is not to say that reauthorization is likely, but watered down reauthorization has been low-hanging fruit for several years. Only irrational acrimony stood in its way. Whether we see legislation is probably less dependent on whether there is some theoretical policy that is suitable to both the President and Congress than it is on whether they are interested in the idea of agreement.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
New Lawsuit Alleges that Pennsylvania’s School Funding Arrangement Denies Students an Adequate Education
Yesterday, plaintiffs in Pennsylvania sued to have the state's funding formula declared unconstitutional, alleging that the General Assembly has failed its state constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. Read the complaint and watch interviews with the plaintiffs at Thorough and Efficient, a joint blog of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Cribbed from the plaintiffs' press release:
The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia sued Monday on behalf of six school districts, parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public ducation. According to the complaint, the Commonwealth has known for nearly a decade that Pennsylvania’s schools are badly underfunded.
Beginning in 2011, however, state officials abandoned [a working] funding formula, reduced funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to prevent local communities from increasing local funding. The complaint alleges that these actions have had devastating consequences for students, school districts, and the future of the Commonwealth. Districts across the state are unable to provide students with the basic elements of a quality education, including sufficient numbers of qualified teachers and staff, appropriate class sizes, suitable facilities, and up-to-date text books and technology. ...
Plaintiffs allege that this underfunding and consequent underperformance has created a system of public education that is neither “thorough” nor “efficient,” nor “serves the needs of the Commonwealth.” In a second cause of action, the complaint alleges that the current way in which the Commonwealth funds public education denies students equal educational opportunities by creating gross funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.