One of the most powerful advocacy tools employed by ELC to promote education equity is litigation. When used as part of a multi-pronged campaign — including communications, coalition building, research and capacity building — litigation can be an effective means of shaping public policy and mobilizing stakeholders.

In New Jersey, ELC’s legal advocacy has resulted in numerous landmark rulings, including the Abbott v. Burke decisions, which significantly advanced the provision of fair school funding, high quality early education, and safe and adequate school facilities. In addition to systemic litigation impacting many thousands of students, especially those most at risk, ELC provides direct legal assistance to individual students, parents and guardians involved in disputes with public school districts in cases related to special education, discipline, bullying and residency.

ELC also provides technical assistance to lawyers across the country working to ensure all students have access to the resources, programs and services they need to succeed. ELC works with advocates to develop legal strategy, identify experts and draft court documents. ELC also hosts an annual Litigators’ Workshop to bring together lawyers working on state-level education equity litigation.

ELC has established a unique network of national and regional law firms to represent parents and children in education rights litigation on a pro bono basis. Using a “public-private” partnership model, ELC works with local and state advocates to develop litigation, and uses national connections to leverage millions of dollars in private law firm resources to undertake these cases. The result of this coordination is a high capacity legal team comprised of ELC, local private or public interest law firms, and national or regional firms representing students and parents in education equity lawsuits.

A few recent examples of this successful litigation model include:

D.R. v. Michigan Department of Education: Litigation brought by ELC, the private law firm White & Case, and local partner, the ACLU of Michigan, against the Michigan Department of Education, Flint Community Schools, and the Genesee Intermediate School District, resulted in the establishment of an unprecedented program to provide universal screening, and in-depth assessments when necessary, to all children impacted by the Flint lead in the water crisis.

Lopez v. Schwartz: ELC, the private law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, and local partner, Educate Nevada Now, successfully challenged a proposed voucher law in Nevada, which would have diverted millions of dollars in public funds to private schools.

Cortes v. Mujica: ELC, the private law firm O’Melveny & Myers, and local partner Alliance for Quality Education, successfully challenged a decision by New York State’s Director of Budget to withhold grant funds appropriated by the Legislature to improve school performance, resulting in the release of $69 million dollars in transformation grants to nine schools.