Support Our Work

As a nonprofit organization, ELC relies on the generous contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations to support our work.

donate now

Join Our Network

Name

Org.

Email

Anti-spam

EDUCATION RIGHTS CASES TO WATCH

October 3, 2019

As the nation’s legal defense fund for education rights, Education Law Center supports and participates as counsel or as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in lawsuits in states across the country challenging inequities in public school systems. Litigation is often a “last resort” strategy when state lawmakers consistently violate the rights of public school children to equal educational opportunities under state and federal law.

In recent months, new and pending cases advanced in numerous courts to remedy state failures to provide adequate resources, funding, facilities and special education programs and to address de facto racial segregation in public school systems.

Here are the important cases we’re watching:

  • Kansas: In June 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court in Gannon v. State again found the State’s school finance system inadequate and unconstitutional. The Court stayed its ruling and gave the State until June 2019 to achieve funding adequacy. In March 2018, a cost study commissioned by the Legislature concluded an additional $2 billion would be needed. On June 14, 2019, the Court found the State’s most recent school funding formula to be adequate but will retain jurisdiction to make certain the State fully phases in required funding increases through 2023.
  • Delaware: In early 2018, parents and other Delaware citizens filed the state’s first constitutional challenge to inadequate school funding in Delawareans for Educational Opportunity (DEO) and NAACP Delaware v. Carney. In November 2018, the Delaware Court of Chancery denied the state’s motion to dismiss, finding a qualitative right to education in the Delaware constitution and a judicial duty to determine claims of inadequate funding. The case is now in preparation for trial.
  • New York: In NYSER v. State of New York, parents in the New York City, Syracuse, and Schenectady school districts are challenging the State’s failure to provide the funding needed for essential resources and improved outcomes. Discovery is continuing in anticipation of a trial in 2020.

    Plaintiffs in Agostini v. Elia continue to pursue legal action to enforce a statutory class size reduction in New York City public schools. In 2019, the plaintiffs appealed the Commissioner of Education’s dismissal of their petition. Oral argument in the New York Appellate Division will take place in January 2020.

  • Pennsylvania: In William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Educationa lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s inadequate school funding system, the trial court has cleared away procedural hurdles and scheduled a trial for Summer 2020. Discovery and trial preparation are underway this year.
  • New Mexico: In July 2018, the trial court in Martinez v. State of New Mexico and Yazzie v. State found the school funding system inadequate and unconstitutional. The court ordered a remedy by April 15, 2019, directing the Legislature to “take immediate steps to ensure that New Mexico schools have the resources necessary to give at-risk students the opportunity to obtain a uniform and sufficient education that prepares them for college and career.” 
  • Minnesota: Breaking new ground, the Minnesota Supreme Court in Cruz Guzman v. Minnesota gave the green light for a trial court to decide a claim that the de facto segregation of the Minneapolis-St. Paul public schools by race and socio-economics has deprived students of an adequate education under Minnesota’s constitution. Discovery proceeded in 2019.
  • Arizona: Discovery continues in Glendale Elementary Sch. Dist. v. State, a 2017 lawsuit alleging the State’s funding for school facilities is unconstitutional. The trial court scheduled motions to address the merits of the case by September 2019.
  • Tennessee: In Shelby County Board of Education v. Haslam, the Memphis and Nashville school districts maintain that funding levels, among the lowest in the nation, are inadequate and violate the Tennessee Constitution. In 2018, the court denied a motion to dismiss, and trial is expected in the coming year.
  • Maine: In Carson v. Makin, several families challenged the exclusion of religious schools from a program allowing districts that do not operate their own public schools to provide education to resident students by paying tuition to approved non-sectarian private schools. The federal district court upheld the State’s decision not to use public funds to pay tuition at private religious schools. The case is currently being briefed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
  • North Carolina: In February 2018, Judge David Lee appointed WestEd, an education research non-profit, to study and recommend a plan for the State to remedy the constitutional violation found in the Leandro v. State of North Carolina school funding case. WestEd has completed the study, and the parties are awaiting further directions from the court. Judge Lee may order further proceedings to determine a final remedy.
  • New Jersey:  A case challenging the Commissioner of Education’s decision to permit a 9,000-student expansion of charter school enrollment in Newark, In re Renewal Application of TEAM Academy Charter School, raises the Commissioner’s failure to comply with statutory and constitutional law requiring an evaluation of fiscal and segregative impacts on review of charter applications. The Appellate Division ruled in favor of the State, and the plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to review the ruling.

    In Latino Action Network v. New Jersey, filed in May 2018, plaintiffs are challenging the de facto segregation by race and socio-economics of New Jersey’s school districts statewide. A trial court rejected the State’s motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on liability is pending before the court.

  • Michigan: In 2018, a lawsuit by Flint parents and children challenging the failure to comply with special education law resulted in a partial settlement establishing an unprecedented “child find” mechanism to ensure children exposed to the lead crisis are properly screened and evaluated for disabilities. The plaintiffs in the case, D.R. v. Michigan Dep’t of Education, are now pursuing the remaining claims, which seek to redress the lack of programs and services for children with disabilities and excessive and improper discipline for these students.

    In Council of Organizations & Others for Education about Parochiaid v. State, the plaintiffs challenged a Michigan statute permitting the diversion of public school funds to reimburse private schools for health and safety expenditures. The trial court enjoined the statute under the ban on public funding of private schools in the Michigan Constitution, but the appellate court reversed in late 2018. The Michigan Supreme Court has granted review, and briefing is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

  • Maryland: Plaintiffs in the long-running Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education lawsuit have moved to reopen a settlement decree to assert State non-compliance with the requirement for adequate school funding for Baltimore City students. The State is opposing the motion and argument is set for late 2019.
  • Massachusetts: A major new challenge to inadequate school funding for students in the state’s high poverty, low wealth school districts has been filed. The complaint factored into a proposal for a significant increase in school funding pending in the Legislature.

Visit our website for developments or join our mailing list to receive updates on a regular basis.    

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24