Friday, August 31, 2018

Connecting School Quality Dots: Money, Race, Suspension, and Safety

School quality and school discipline are intertwined.  As I explain in Reforming School Discipline, "[s]ocial science increasingly demonstrates that while student misbehavior is a function of individual choices that students make, individual student misbehavior is also a function of the school environment in which they learn and act. Quality schools and orderly environments consistently produce higher student achievement and less misbehavior. Low quality schools with disorderly, hostile, and punitive environments produce lower student achievement and higher rates of suspension and expulsion."  And as Bruce Baker, Kirabo Jackson, and official government reports establish, there is a direct link between school funding and school quality and student outcomes.

If we take these two basic insights about money and school discipline and throw some basic data points together, a pretty stark image emerges. This week, the ACLU and UCLA Civil Rights Project issued a new report on race, discipline, and school safety that gave me the tools to do just that.  They issued heat maps that show on a district-by-district basis how many students are suspended, whether there is a shortage of school counselors.  And earlier this year, Bruce Baker and his colleagues issued a report that measured school spending levels against what it would take for students in each district to achieve at average levels.

Side by side these maps nearly look like mirror images, even though they are measuring two seemingly different things.

Side by side

 

The bright spots in the image on the left show districts with high rates of school suspension.  The yellow, orange and red spots in the image on the right show districts that are the most underfunded.  The dark blue on the left image and the green on the right image show the other end of the spectrum--schools with low discipline rates and high funding levels.  There are, of course, exceptions.  Texas, for instance, has a serious school funding problem, but relatively low discipline rates.  Although you can still see that within Texas, there are discipline problems in the southern and eastern part of the state, where underfunding is also a problem.

Trying to draw an even more vivid picture, this morning I decided to do it the new, old-fashioned way--cutting and pasting.  My task was to put raw data from Baker's study into the ACLU's map.  A perfect job would be a long term project, but I just wanted a snap shot.  Baker's appendix breaks the raw data on spending gaps into five categories: highest spending districts, high spending districts, those in the middle, low spending districts, and the lowest spending districts (although his phraseology is different).  I used the middle spending districts.  The middle spending districts don't present a full picture in a lot of states, as the gap between the middle and bottom spending districts is enormous.  Whereas, in other states, the gap is smaller.  But the middle spending districts offer the snapshot I was looking for.

Here is what I found.  Those states and districts with high suspension rates (the bright spots on the map) tend to underfund their public education system.  Those with low suspension rates (states painted mostly blue) tend to fund their education system relatively well (which is still distinct from adequately).  The boxes on the states represent Baker's estimate of the extent to which the median districts in the state fail to provide the resources necessary for students to achieve average outcomes.  

Suspension and money

Conclusive evidence? Absolutely not.  Troubling enough that someone far more sophisticated than me should look at it more closely.  Absolutely.

 

August 31, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Constitutional Problems Aside, Is Mississippi's Charter School Law Flawed?

As discussed in a post last week, the constitutionality of Mississippi's charter school law is currently before the state supreme court.  The issue is whether a statute requiring the transfer of district ad valorem taxes to charter schools violates the State Constitution.  There is both a pure legal and pure empirical issue embedded in the case.  First, regardless of its educational effects, is the formal transfer of funds unconstitutional?  Second, even if the formal transfer is permissible in general, does the transfer have the practical effect of denying students access to their constitutionally guaranteed education?  The Education Law Center argues that

the growing body of research from several states demonstrat[es] the negative fiscal impact of charter schools on local school districts. Districts have fixed costs that are not offset when a student moves to a charter school. Districts must continue to educate at-risk student populations requiring additional resources, including poor students, English language learners and students with disabilities. The transfer of per-pupil funds to charters schools leads to reductions in programs, staff, and services needed for the education of district students. Loss of revenue to charter schools, combined with existing underfunding - as is the case for JPS - creates significant deficits in education resources for district students.

Brand new analysis by Robert Garda suggests that there is a third question, which will rise in prominence, if this constitutional challenge fails.  That question is simply whether Mississippi's charter law, when assessed within the universe of charter laws, is an effective one for managing charter schools in the state.  In The Mississippi Charter School Act: Will it Produce Effective and Equitable Charter Schools?, 36 Miss. C. L. Rev. 265 (2018), he argues that the Act has flaws, even if it is constitutional.  Among his chief concerns are the "quality surround the authorization standards, the automatic closure and nonrenewal provisions standards, and level of required academic performance" and the "governance structures surrounding special education.

His abstract offers this summary:

The Mississippi Charter School Act (CSA) is under constitutional and political attack. On the first front, litigation is underway challenging the funding provisions of the CSA under the Mississippi Constitution. The second front is a broader political attack against charter schools generally, which questions their effectiveness, viability and impact on traditional public schools. These critical issues have diverted attention from a third, and equally important, consideration: whether the CSA is an effective charter enabling statute. This article addresses this overlooked issue and analyzes the CSA to determine if it constructs a landscape that ensures the creation, governance and oversight of effective and equitable charter schools.

The current constitutional and political attacks seek to prevent charter schools from existing at-all in Mississippi. But if charter schools are deemed constitutionally permissible (almost all similar attacks have failed) and if they continue to grow in Mississippi (as is occurring nationwide), the CSA and the policies of the Charter School Authorizer Board of Mississippi (CSAB) stand as the primary mechanisms ensuring charter schools are effective and provide equitable access. This article provides a critique of the CSA and CSAB’s policies and suggests changes to ensure that Mississippi provides equitable access to high performing charter schools.

Hats off to Professor Garda for not jumping to one side or the other of the constitutional issue and, instead, focusing on real world questions that need answering once the dust settles, something scholars--including myself, do not always do.  You can download the full article here.

 

August 28, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 27, 2018

Are New Laws Requiring the Posting of "In God We Trust" in Public Schools Constitutional?

800px-Flickr_-_USCapitol_-__In_God_We_Trust__Plaque
This fall, Florida public school students will go to school under a new banner.  Early this summer, the state passed a law requiring that

Each district school board shall adopt rules to require, in all of the schools of the district and in each building used by the district school board, the display of the state motto, "In God We Trust," designated under s. 15.0301, in a conspicuous place.

Tennessee recently passed a similar law and several other states have been considering doing the same.  

On the one hand, the phrase was already on the Florida state flag, our national currency, and etched in various fora.  Yet, my reading of the cases suggests these new laws raise serious constitutional problems because of the goal they seek and new message they send.

Courts typically look at three major issues in religion cases: purpose, effect, and coercion. A religious purpose alone would make these new law unconstitutional. If the goal is to "put God back in schools," disclaimers to the contrary will not save the legislation.

NPR reported that the sponsor of the bill in Florida said this:

[T]he bill is "so simple, just saying put a poster up to remind our children of the foundation of this country."

"It is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed, but the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart," she said.

Daniels said she had a vision earlier in the week, "I believe it was God, and I heard a voice say, 'Do not politicize what has happened in Florida and do not make this a thing of division.' "

Daniels continued to speak about God: "He's not a Republican and he's not a Democrat. He's not black and he's not white. He is the light. And our schools need light in them like never before."

The new conspicuous posting of the phrase may also have problematic effects, regardless of the intent. The average person who sees a new posting in school that proclaims "In God We Trust" would almost certainly see it as an endorsement of religion. Seeing that motto displaying conspicuously in several locations in a school would send an even clearer message. No other phrase or motto comes closes to holding that status. Nor to my knowledge has anything ever held that status. The only thing that comes close is the American flag, but of course, the flag is not a religious symbol. Yet, even with it, the Court has held, on other grounds, that schools cannot force students to participate in the pledge, with the idea being that it is beyond the power of schools to force students to accept or submit to idea. This applies to political as well as religious ideas.

Even more specific precedent bears on these postings. The Supreme Court and lower courts have struck down the moment of silence in Louisiana schools not because the moment of silence is generally objectionable, but because when Louisiana passed the the law, its purpose was to encourage prayer under the auspices of a moment of silence.  And the Court has struck down certain displays of the Ten Commandments in school because the particular way the school posted it sent a religious rather than secular message. The "In God We Trust" laws would seem to include both problems--a religious purpose and a religious effect.

Although not directly on point, the Ninth Circuit also decided a case involving a teacher who had put up two large banners in his classroom that read "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," and "God Bless America." The school ordered him to take them down and he claimed it violated his First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit held that the school could order him to take them down without violating his rights. It did not answer the question of whether the school could allow these banners if it wanted. But it stands to reason that the school correctly perceived the banners to be violations of the establishment clause, which is why it could order them taken down.

To be clear, there is an important exception to the case law. The state can display religious texts when there is a secular purpose and effect. This means that, as part of teaching history or legal lessons, schools can potentially display the Ten Commandments, but only if the Commandments are surrounded other secular materials that make it clear that the overall purpose is secular not religious. Placing the Ten Commandments aside just one other document is not enough to lead to this conclusion. 

My suspicion is that lawmakers think there is a loophole because "In God We Trust" has been treated as what courts call a "ceremonial deism" in the context of U.S. currency and architectural fixtures. This area of the law is extremely difficult to reconcile with the generally applicable First Amendment standards. The simplest explanation is that the Court has said that the monetary and architectural references are not really religious statements. They are just utterances and mottos with no real meaning, but which we have stuck with through history for tradition sake, not to make a religious statement. Thus, they don't violate the First Amendment.

New uses of those mottos would appear different, particularly when used for the purpose of making a religious statement. Using the motto as a backdoor way to try to make a new statement is unlikely to fit the narrow "ceremonial deism" exception. Schools simply have not always had these postings in the past, which would indicate an effort to make a new affirmative statement.

About a decade ago, the former Attorney General of Georgia disagreed with the foregoing analysis. He pointed out that the motto has been sanctioned in other contexts, so there is no reason to suspect it would be different in school. He, however, does not take up all the factors and cases that make the classroom far different than the dollar bill and buildings that are a century old. He did acknowledge that he could be wrong--as do I.

August 27, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Do New School Report Cards Reveal Something Worth Knowing or Are They Just Statistical Magic?

Texas has released its statewide grading of public schools, using a grading scale of A to F.  The grades would appear to be a reflection of school poverty levels than anything else.   The Texas Tribune’s analysis shows that “No school district with a rate of low-income students lower than 30 percent received an overall rating of C, D or F.”  And as the level of poor students in the schools increase, the letter grades become more variable, but the clear trend is that letter grades substantially decline.  Almost the entire cluster of Cs, Ds, and Fs is with schools with poverty rates in excess of 50%. Texas

This data poses crucial questions and possibilities.  First, is the variability in letter grades among high poverty schools an indication that the system really is distinguishing between higher and lower quality schools.  Second, do schools have any way to predict, understand, and respond to their overall poor performance?  If they don’t, this system is no better than the statically teacher evaluation systems that state leaders claimed would magically transform the teaching profession, but which were shown to be pretty much pointless, if not harmful, within just a few years. 

Third, even if schools understand these results, do those at the bottom end actually have the resources they need to make change.  As research increasingly shows, money does, in fact, matter to student outcomes and it matters a lot.  Unfortunately, Texas schools are way short on it.  Recent school finance litigation has shown how Texas has been dramatically underfunding its education system.  The largest scale snapshot shows school funding is down roughly 16% in real dollar terms in Texas since 2008.

The whole system, however, might be nothing more than voodoo magic.  States adopted their new rating systems pursuant to the Every Student Succeeds Act.  And as I emphasize in Abandoning the Federal Role in Education,

under the ESSA, states have enormous flexibility in the amount of weight they assign to particular tests and to student achievement factors overall. Not only does this flexibility permit an individual state to minimize the weight it assigns, but it also allows every state to do something different.  One state might make student proficiency tests the dominant measure of student achievement while another state uses student growth.    And regardless of the approach a state takes, states can assign significantly different weights to tests and other student achievement measures. A state might, for instance, assign test results 95 percent in their accountability metric and any number of non-test factors 5 percent or less collectively.  Another state might assign test results 60 percent in its accountability metric while assigning 40 percent to softer factors, such as student engagement, teacher engagement, and school climate.  With a number of options, states will have the ability to manipulate their accountability systems so as to produce desired outcomes. 

None of the foregoing means to suggest that testing is an effective means to promote equal education opportunity or that some optimum weight should be afforded to test results. The point here is that the ESSA maintains the NCLB’s notion that there is merit to testing and accountability, but undermines its own premise. If testing and accountability are plausible tools for achieving equality, leaving states’ testing regimes to random variability undermines equality. Rather than tracking a single proficiency standard as in the NCLB, the ESSA affords disadvantaged students educational opportunities that more closely track the approach of their home state rather than any mandate in statute. In this respect, the ESSA does little to continue the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s historic mission to promote improvements in academic achievement for disadvantaged students."

It seems to me the overarching problem is that we don’t really know if the system is a statistical sleight of hand, a reflection of inadequate funding, or a reflection of socio-economic segregation (which is the biggest driver of student achievement).  And if we don’t know that, then these report cards cannot really tell us anything worth knowing—even if the underlying data and method is right on target.  In other words, transparency is worth its weight in gold.  Letter grades in the hands of parents and administrators who don’t know how to interpret them are more dangerous than pure ignorance.

Get the full Texas Tribune analysis below.

Continue reading

August 24, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

DeVos Effort to Use Federal Education Dollars for Guns Shows Just How Insignificant Her Administration Is

Devos2So Betsy DeVos wants to spend federal education dollars on guns.  Hats off to Erica Green at the New York Times for a detailed explanation of how federal education dollars can and can’t be spent and the focus of a relatively obscure piece of the federal education funding pie.  She interestingly points out something I did not know—that most federal education grants specifically prohibit schools from spending them on guns.

But there is a larger point to be made here and it is not about federal funding restrictions on gun purchases or the wisdom of guns in school itself.  The larger point is about how small this administration has become. 

Think about the big issues of the past year: education protests, long term trends in school funding and teacher salaries, state accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, school segregation, affirmative action, declarations that state school systems are constitutionally inadequate, and DeVos’s favorite—school choice.  School safety, of course, was among these issues.  That debate, however, was about what strategies could make schools safer.  More counselors? More school resource officers? Armed teachers?

There was talk of more funding to cover the substantial expenses of additional counselors and school resource officers, and more services for students.  But I don’t recall schools saying “we really want to arm our teachers but just can’t afford it.”

That is what makes DeVos’s musings so remarkable.  Regardless of the wisdom of arming teachers, this particular policy item is an enormous overreach of power on an insignificant matter.  She could be working on finding solutions to things that students in poor schools really need, but instead she is devising strategies to get around Congressional restrictions so she can reallocate federal dollars in ways that no serious and substantial constituency cares about.  Why?  For a headline.  To please constituents who only care about headlines and narrative.  To be able to say she did something, when really she did nothing.

I would venture to guess that even if DeVos manages to sneak this through, it won’t amount to a hill of beans.  From what I know of the poor schools that receive these federal dollars that she would free up, they need new books, more teachers, better qualified teachers, more well-maintained facilities, and technology.  It is hard for me to imagine that more than an insignificant spattering of them will say, “you know, we were going to hire a part-time reading specialist this year or our first new computers in eight years, but now that Betsy DeVos has freed us, let’s buy guns instead.”

And the fact that this is what DeVos is spending her time on shows just how small and insignificant this administration is to the quality of educational opportunity in the country.

--image by Gage Skidmore

August 23, 2018 in Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Diversion of District Funds to Mississippi Charter Schools Is Unconstitutional by Education Law Center

Education Law Center has filed an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," brief in Araujo v. Bryant, a case before the Mississippi Supreme Court challenging the unconstitutional diversion of school district funds to charter schools.

The Mississippi Constitution allows districts to levy ad valorem property taxes exclusively to maintain their own schools. But the State's charter school law forces districts to transfer the per-pupil amount of those locally raised funds to charter schools when students living in the district attend them. Under Mississippi's charter law, a state agency authorizes charter schools, and districts have no control over their operation.

The Araujo lawsuit challenging the charter transfer statute was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of parents and students in the Jackson Public Schools (JPS). ELC's amicus brief provides the Court with crucial information about the negative impact on public school districts, especially JPS, of this unconstitutional diversion of local funds.

ELC's amicus brief explains that JPS serves a high concentration of students who are at-risk due to household and community poverty and therefore require increased educational resources. This need for additional resources for low-income students is recognized by the State of Mississippi's school funding formula. Yet JPS receives less aid than the formula requires to provide students with an adequate education. Over the last decade, the State has consistently failed to provide the funding amounts prescribed by its own formula, robbing JPS of millions of dollars in State funding each year.

ELC's brief also details the increasing amounts of ad valorem taxes JPS has been forced to send to charter schools. Since the 2015-16 school year, JPS has transferred over $4.5 million to State-authorized charter schools, an amount that will continue to increase. Ad valorem tax revenue is a critical component of the JPS budget, and JPS residents have chosen to tax themselves far beyond the minimum rate set by the State in order to support their schools. As ELC explains, insufficient State funding for the district - compounded by the diversion of ad valorem tax revenues to charter schools - results in a lack of essential education resources for JPS students.

Finally, ELC's brief provides an overview of the growing body of research from several states demonstrating the negative fiscal impact of charter schools on local school districts. Districts have fixed costs that are not offset when a student moves to a charter school. Districts must continue to educate at-risk student populations requiring additional resources, including poor students, English language learners and students with disabilities. The transfer of per-pupil funds to charters schools leads to reductions in programs, staff, and services needed for the education of district students. Loss of revenue to charter schools, combined with existing underfunding - as is the case for JPS - creates significant deficits in education resources for district students.

ELC's brief asks the Mississippi Supreme Court to declare that the statute requiring the transfer of district ad valorem taxes to charter schools violates the State Constitution. The brief highlights that the unconstitutional diversion of local tax revenue to charter schools has a material, adverse effect on JPS students, who are being deprived of the funds required for an adequate public education and the opportunity to succeed in school.

August 23, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 20, 2018

False Assumptions about Private Schools Are Driving Public School Funding into a Ditch

This essay originally appeared in USA Today

Political leaders are asking the nation to double down on the bet that expanding school vouchers will improve educational outcomes. Arizona — ground zero in the Koch network's efforts to reshape education — is set to decide a voucher referendum this fall. A dozen other state legislatures have passed or are considering their own voucher expansions. And the Trump administration is cheering them on. It created a private school loophole in last year’s tax reform and is now asking Congress for new money to expand school choice further

These pushes rest on a false premise — that there is a private school advantage.

Private schools’ higher average test scores drive this myth. The problem is that average test scores alone do not tell us anything worth knowing. Comparing the average scores of private and public schools is comparing apples to oranges. Public and private schools enroll students from very different backgrounds. Most important, more than half of public school students are low-income. Only about one in four private school students is low-income.

Private schools don't add value

These numbers are all but destiny for a school’s overall achievement. Low-income students face a number of personal obstacles that depress their performance — from housing instability and hunger to a lack of academic support outside school. These challenges follow low-income children no matter what school they attend. An overall school’s achievement, then, is largely dictated by the percentage of low- and middle-income students it enrolls, not whether it is public or private. But simply enrolling a larger percentage of middle-income students doesn’t mean that one school is better than another.

The question to ask is whether the average poor student performs better in private school than in public school. That is what we call “value-added” and something worthy of public investment. But the data say there is not any value-added in private school.

University of Virginia researchers recently followed a cohort of children from birth to age 15, as they moved in and out of private and public schools. Once they compared apples to apples — “simply controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics” — the so-called private school advantage disappeared. They could not find any “evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.” 

Another team of researchers examined every public and private school in the nation. They found that after controlling for demographics, public schools actually slightly outperform private schools.

 

Federal and state leaders either have their heads in the sand or are trying to dupe the public. They have been pushing for more vouchers for private schools and slamming public schools for the past decade. Over that time, 29 states have significantly reduced public education spending — some by as much as 37 percent. Yet, during this same period, states like Florida and Indiana substantially increased the amount they would spend per voucher and quadrupled the size of their programs.

At the federal level, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the public school model is flawed and wants to radically expand charters and vouchers. The president’s proposed 2019 budget would cut or eliminate several public school programs, including a grant program for teachers. It would use that money for $1 billion in new grants for private and public school choice programs.

Public school funding makes a difference

The trouble is that public school funding levels actually matter a lot in how students perform. Examining decades of national data, a recent study found that a 20 percent increase in public school funding corresponds with low-income students completing nearly a year of additional education — enough to drastically reduce achievement gaps and adulthood poverty.

A follow-up study focused on the past decade of funding cuts and found that they depressed student achievement.

Spending money on vouchers rather than public schools is not based on facts or good faith efforts to improve outcomes for needy students. It is an ideological position about the role of government. The new pejorative term “government schools” and the fact that voucher programs are increasingly directed at middle-income students show that the current push isn’t about honest reform.

People send their kids to private school for a variety of reasons that make sense for them as individuals — religion, status, unique opportunities and personal flexibility. But when it comes to public policy, government can do nothing better right now for students than to fully fund public schools. 

August 20, 2018 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Claim That Segregation Deprives Students of a Constitutionally Adequate Education Can Proceed, Holds Minnesota Supreme Court by Wendy Lecker

In a groundbreaking decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court has determined that claims of public school segregation brought under the State constitution's education clause are justiciable, that is, they may be adjudicated by the courts. The Court, in its July 25 ruling in Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota, concluded that a constitutionally adequate education in Minnesota includes ensuring schools are free from segregation by race and socio-economic status.

The plaintiffs in Cruz-Guzman are parents and children enrolled in public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. They filed a class action complaint in 2015, contending that school segregation deprived children in these districts of an adequate education under Minnesota's constitution, as well as the guarantee of Equal Protection and Due Process. The plaintiffs are represented by a team led by Daniel Schulman of the Minneapolis law firm, Gray Plant Mooty.

Education Law Center, along with over twenty of the nation's leading education and constitutional law scholars, filed an amicus curae brief in the Minnesota Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs in this case. Jones Day attorneys Todd Geremia and James Gross, as well as Christina Lindberg, represented ELC and the scholars pro bono.

The State moved to dismiss the case, and, in 2017, the district court denied that motion. However, the court of appeals reversed the decision, holding that claims of State violations of the Minnesota constitution's education guarantee were non-justiciable political questions to be determined solely by the Legislature.

On July 25, the Minnesota Supreme Court forcefully disagreed and reaffirmed the judiciary's role in ensuring the education rights of Minnesota children.

School Segregation in Minneapolis and St. Paul

In its ruling, the Court noted that the complaint set forth "copious data demonstrating a 'high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status' in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools." The Court further acknowledged that these segregated schools "have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts."

The plaintiffs identified State policies that cause this segregation, including:

  • boundary decisions for school districts and school attendance areas;
  • the formation of segregated charter schools;
  • the decision to exempt charter schools from desegregation plans;
  • the use of federal and state desegregation funds for other purposes;
  • the failure to implement effective desegregation remedies; and
  • the inequitable allocation of resources.

Justiciability

Minnesota's constitution provides that "it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools." The State argued that because it is the legislature's duty to provide an adequate education, it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the judiciary to rule on matters of educational adequacy. The State also argued that ruling on these claims would improperly embroil the judiciary in complex educational policy matters. The Supreme Court disagreed.

The Court noted that specific educational policy matters are the province of the legislature, but that fact does not bar courts from determining whether the legislature has fulfilled its obligation under the constitution.

To the contrary, the Court ruled, it would be an abdication of the judiciary's duty if the Court "unquestioningly accep[ted] that whatever the Legislature has chosen to do fulfills the Legislature's duty to provide an adequate education." As the Court noted, the education clause is a mandate to the Legislature, not a grant of power.

The Court further held that to rule that these claims are non-justiciable would be to leave claims under the education clause without a remedy, violating the long-held principle that where there is a right, there is a remedy.

The Court also rejected the notion that the judiciary cannot manage complex education claims. It noted the judicial branch role is to interpret the language of the constitution-and "[w]e will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area." The Court pointed out that the plaintiffs are merely asking the Court to declare that the State violated the constitution-they did not ask the Court to dictate to the State how to remedy this violation. Thus, thus the Court need not engage in any improper policy-making.

Definition of Adequacy

The State contended that judicial interpretation of the education article would involve an improper qualitative assessment by the Court of what constitutes an adequate education. The Court agreed that a qualitative assessment is required, but rejected the claim that a judicial definition of adequacy is improper, holding instead that this task is intrinsic to the court's role.

The Court pointed out that, in a previous case, it had ruled that education is a fundamental right under Minnesota's constitution. In this case, the Court elaborated, ruling that "an education that does not equip Minnesotans to discharge their duties as citizens intelligently cannot fulfill the Legislature's duty to provide an adequate education under the Education Clause."

Importantly, the Court emphasized that "[i]t is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not 'general,' 'uniform,' 'thorough,' or 'efficient'" under Minnesota's Education Clause.

Districts and Charters Not "Necessary Parties"

The State argued that the case must be dismissed because the districts and charter schools were not joined as "necessary parties." The Court ruled that the mere fact that the districts and charters may be affected by any ruling in this case does not require their joinder. The plaintiffs are seeking relief solely from the State. The Court noted that "many non-parties are bound to be affected by a judicial ruling in an action regarding the constitutionality of state statutes or state action, but they cannot all be required to be a part of the suit."

Next Steps

This Supreme Court decision allows the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs' claim to proceed to trial. It also provides guidance for the trial court to set qualitative standards against which to assess the evidence of student segregation in the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools. Finally, the Court makes abundantly clear that the courts are available for school children across Minnesota to seek redress of violations of their rights to a constitutionally adequate education which, according to this Court, includes an education that is free from segregation.

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center

August 2, 2018 in Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (1)