Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Achieving Equitable Education through the Courts: A Comparative Analysis of Three States

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Achieving Equitable Education through the Courts: A Comparative Analysis of Three States

Article excerpt


Education is of critical importance to our nation. Not only does it impart social values and allow children to attain skills necessary to participate in both our labor market and our democracy,1 but it is the underpinning of our selfimage as "the land of the free." With a good education, we believe a child from any background can grow up to be president of the United States. The Supreme Court recognized these values when Chief Justice Warren declared:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments .... In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.2

States and localities have affirmed the importance of education by putting their money where their collective mouths are-in 1996-97 they spent about $292 billion dollars on elementary and secondary education,3 almost exactly what the federal government spends on defense.4

Given the shared understanding of the pivotal role education plays in our society, why are many students still languishing without a quality education? Plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit against the State of California alleged the following facts facing students at Luther Burbank Middle School in San Francisco:

At Luther Burbank, students cannot take textbooks home for homework in any core subject because their teachers have enough textbooks for use in class only.... Some math, science, and other core classes, do not have even enough textbooks for all the students in a single class to use during the school day, so some students must share the same one book during class time. In many classes in the school, textbooks are nine and more years out of date. For homework, students must take home photocopied pages, with no accompanying text for guidance or reference, when and if their teachers have enough paper to use to make homework copies....

Luther Burbank is infested with vermin and roaches and students routinely see mice in their classrooms. ...

Luther Burbank classrooms do not have computers....

The school no longer offers any art classes for budgetary reasons....

Two of the three bathrooms at Luther Burbank are locked all day, every day. The third bathroom is locked during lunch and other periods during the school day, so there are times during school when no bathroom at all is available for students to use....

Paint peels off walls in many classrooms and there is graffiti on classroom and other school walls. Ceiling tiles are missing and cracked in the school gym, and school children are afraid to play basketball and other games in the gym because they worry that more ceiling tiles will fall on them during their games.5

Students at Luther Burbank are not alone. Statistics show children nationwide facing serious educational problems. More than half of African-American boys entering ninth grade will not graduate in four years.6 In big cities like Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Cleveland, significant numbers of schools have only 15% of students testing at grade level.7 White students nationwide have higher scores in reading, math and science than their black and Hispanic peers.8 In 1999, students whose families were in the lowest income quintile were five times as likely to drop out as students from the highest income quintile.9 These statistics paint a picture of a nation in which the quality of education is impacted by race, by poverty, and by concentrations of poverty.

There is no question that the students at Luther Burbank would benefit from increased funding to their school. In fact, finances are going to be important at schools around the nation in the immediate future. Enrollment in first through twelfth grade now equals that of the Baby Boom,10 and the U. …

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