ELC has submitted numerous amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of plaintiffs’ positions in cases across the country where important issues related to school and student equity were at issue. A sample of these briefs is provided below.
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education v. Rell (Connecticut Supreme Court 2017)
ELC filed an amicus brief asking the Court to reverse the widely criticized 2016 trial court ruling, on the basis that the judge applied an extremely narrow and improper standard for evaluating the resources required for a constitutionally adequate education and ignored the charge of the Connecticut Supreme Court in its remand of the case for trial. The trial court acknowledged the evidence of deprivations in essential resources, particularly those resources that support at-risk students, and that those deficits negatively impacted student achievement, but disregarded this evidence in concluding that Connecticut need only provide the bare minimum of facilities, teachers and instrumentalities of learning to the state’s neediest students. ELC urged the Court to remand the case to the trial court for reconsideration of the evidence under the proper constitutional standard.
Davids v. State and Wright v. State (Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department 2016)
The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) filed an amicus brief that asked the Court to dismiss these consolidated cases. The brief, authored by ELC, demonstrated that adequate school funding – and not teacher work rules, as plaintiffs alleged – is the critical factor that determines whether New York school districts, especially low-wealth districts, can attract and retain effective teachers and support staff and secure other essential educational resources. The brief pointed out that the New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest Court, held that to successfully allege constitutionally inadequate education, a plaintiff must demonstrate a systemic deficiency of basic educational resources, poor student outcomes, and a causal connection between these systemic failures and state action or inaction. The plaintiffs in these cases presented no evidence of deficiencies or low student outcomes in any school district and failed to allege facts to establish causation.
Hoboken Board of Education v. State of New Jersey Dep’t of Education (Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division 2015)
ELC and the ACLU of New Jersey filed an amicus brief urging the Court to overturn the NJ Commissioner of Education’s decision to allow a charter school to expand in Hoboken, explaining that the charter school’s student population is not representative of the school district’s school-aged population and the expansion would worsen segregation by race and socio-economic class. The brief pointed out that the Commissioner failed to fulfill his lawful duty to prevent segregation, in contravention of New Jersey statutory and constitutional principles.
Vergara v. State of California (Court of Appeal of California 2015)
ELC and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Equal Justice Society, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles filed an amicus brief urging the Court to dismiss this case, which it did in 2016. The brief focused on the need for adequate and fair funding to enable districts to attract, support and retain an effective teacher workforce, particularly in districts serving the state’s most vulnerable school children. Plaintiffs had claimed that teacher work laws led to an alleged lack of effective teachers and denial of equal protection for students. But plaintiffs failed to establish a causal link between the statutes and any impact on educational opportunity or equal protection.
Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition v. Williams (Texas Supreme Court 2015)
ELC and several Texas organizations filed an amicus brief urging the Court to affirm the trial court’s ruling that the Texas school funding system violates the state’s constitution and, in particular, fails to provide economically disadvantaged, ELL, and African-American students their right to an adequate, suitable, and efficient education. The brief also reviewed the strong body of empirical studies that shows increases in funding improve outcomes for students, as courts across the country have recognized. The law firm of Paul, Weiss LLP, provided pro bono assistance to author the brief with ELC.
William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pa. Dept. of Educ. (Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania 2015)
ELC and several Pennsylvania organizations that advocate for high-quality public education filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners’ claims of inadequate education funding under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Education Clause and Equal Protection Clause. The amici argued that these claims were justiciable in light of the substantive academic and performance standards enacted by the state legislature, ameliorating any obstacles to justiciability in previous state precedent. The brief also reviewed decades of academic research showing that adequate educational funding improves student achievement and cited court decisions linking increased funding to essential educational resources and better opportunity and outcomes.
Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County Sch. Dist. (Colorado Supreme Court 2014)
ELC and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) filed an amicus brief urging the Court to declare that the Douglas County voucher program violated the Colorado Constitution’s prohibition against funneling taxpayer dollars to religious schools. The brief explained that the voucher program was designed in such a way that it would: subsidize wealthy students already attending religious schools; reduce funding for public schools statewide; undermine the State’s educational accountability scheme; and fail to increase choice or student achievement, since the research shows that other voucher schemes have failed in those ways.
Gannon v. State (Kansas Supreme Court 2014)
ELC filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of Kansas’ education funding system. ELC argued that the trial court correctly relied on Montoy v. State, an earlier Kansas school funding case, in holding that judicially manageable standards existed to assess the state’s funding system, and demonstrated that a majority of state high courts have issued similar rulings. Using examples from courts across the country, ELC also argued that the trial court appropriately ordered the state to comply with its cost-based funding system, and possessed the authority to order the state to disburse a specific amount of funding.
Lobato v. State (Colorado Supreme Court 2013)
The Colorado Supreme Court addressed the justiciability of plaintiffs’ claim that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public education, as well as the substance of that claim. ELC argued that the court should not overturn earlier precedent proclaiming such matters justiciable, particularly in light of legislatively enacted, standards-based education reforms that could inform judicially manageable standards. ELC’s brief also demonstrated the ongoing trend of state courts enforcing children’s constitutional right to education, and summarized numerous studies and judicial opinions concluding that increased school funding results in better access to essential resources, improved opportunities and higher student achievement.
Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) v. State (California Court of Appeal 2013)
ELC joined the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, to submit a brief in support of plaintiffs’ case challenging the adequacy of education funding in California. Providing examples from state courts across the country, the amici argued that the California Court of Appeal should hold that the Education Article of the California Constitution embodies a qualitative right to education, and define that right based on the constitutional text and the State’s legislatively articulated, content-based academic standards. Additionally, the amici argued that the separation of powers doctrine compelled, rather than barred, judicial resolution of plaintiffs’ claims.
J.T. v. Dumont Public Schools (New Jersey District Court 2010)
The J.T. case raises the issue of whether a school district can satisfy the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by applying a blanket rule regarding placement of kindergarteners with disabilities. ELC filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, arguing that the requirement that litigants first seek relief through the administrative process before appearing in court should not apply. The brief asserted that the proper remedy for allegations about system-wide policies could only be addressed by the court, and not by an administrative judge, and therefore the plaintiffs should be permitted to proceed directly to court. ELC further argued that the IDEA requires individualized decision-making about school placement for each student with disabilities, and set forth at length the benefits to all students of inclusive placements.
Pinto v. Spectrum (New Jersey Supreme Court 2010)
ELC joined the ACLU-NJ and other NJ public interest organizations in appearing as amici before the New Jersey Supreme Court on an issue concerning attorneys’ fees in state fee-shifting cases. The Court agreed with amici that public interest attorneys should not be barred from simultaneously negotiating both the merits and attorneys’ fees in such cases, and barred defendants from demanding the waiver of a public interest law firm's attorneys’ fees as a condition of settlement.
L.J. v. Audubon Bd. of Educ. (Third Circuit Court of Appeals 2009)
ELC appeared on its own behalf and on behalf of several statewide and national disability advocacy organizations as amici in this case, which presented the court with the issue of attorneys’ fees in special education cases. The amici supported neither party; rather, they wrote independently to advise the Third Circuit of the District Court's misapplication of Third Circuit law regarding the determination of an appropriate attorneys’ fee rate and to reinforce the critical nature of fee shifting to enforce the rights of children with disabilities under federal special education law.
Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. State (Connecticut Supreme Court 2008)
The Supreme Court of Connecticut considered the question of whether schoolchildren have a substantive constitutional right to a "suitable" or "adequate" education. ELC filed an amicus brief along with other advocacy organizations to bring to the Court's attention the rulings and remedial experiences of other state courts considering this issue.
Bacon v. NJ State Dept. of Education (Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, 2008)
ELC, with co-counsel Gibbons P.C., represented itself as amicus to argue for a needs-based remedy for the poor, rural, "Bacon" school districts, whose students were found to be denied a thorough and efficient education under the State constitution. A New Jersey appellate court directed the State’s Commissioner of Education to carry out a needs assessment of these 17 school districts to ascertain the special educational needs of the students and determine whether the school funding formula enacted by the State Legislature provided an appropriate remedy.
Lobato v. State (Colorado Supreme Court 2008)
The Supreme Court of Colorado considered the issue of whether plaintiffs’ claims were nonjusticiable because their resolution would require the courts to interfere with the legislative and executive branches of government. ELC filed a brief in support of plaintiffs, providing information about how courts in similar cases across the country have handled the issue.
Abbeville Cty. Sch. Dist. v. State (South Carolina Supreme Court 2008)
In December 2005, a trial court ruled that South Carolina’s schoolchildren were being denied their right to an education under the state constitution because of the state’s failure to develop and fund early childhood intervention programs "designed to address the impact of poverty on children’s educational abilities and achievements." Cross-appeals of the trial court’s decision were filed with the state Supreme Court, and ELC represented and wrote an amicus brief for the League of Women Voters of South Carolina and the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP urging the Court to uphold the trial court’s early childhood remedy.
L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Bd. of Educ. (New Jersey Supreme Court 2007)
ELC appeared with other New Jersey advocacy groups before the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, and the New Jersey Supreme Court as amici in this landmark bullying case involving anti-gay harassment.
P.N. v. Clementon BOE (Third Circuit Court of Appeals 2006)
The P.N. case raised the issue of who is a "prevailing party" in special education cases for purposes of obtaining prevailing party attorneys’ fees. In addition to supporting the plaintiff-student's argument that he obtained all the relief sought and is entitled to "prevailing party" status, the amicus brief provides the Third Circuit with a powerful discussion of the negative impact the lower district court opinion will have on students with disabilities, especially those who are indigent, if upheld.
State v. Campbell (Wyoming Supreme Court 2006)
ELC prepared an amicus brief on behalf of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and Wyoming Parent Teacher Association urging the Wyoming Supreme Court to reverse a trial court order dismissing a claim for a state-funded, high quality, preschool program. Several Wyoming school districts and the Wyoming Education Association had sought funding for a voluntary preschool program as part of the remedy in the on-going school finance case, State v. Campbell.
A.R. v. Freehold Regional High Sch. Bd. of Educ. (New Jersey District Court 2006)
ELC appeared on its own behalf and on behalf of several disability advocacy organizations as amici in this case, which presented the court with the issue of who should bear the burden of proof in a special education due process hearing when a school district seeks to change a child’s IEP. The brief supported the student-plaintiff’s position that, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Schaffer v. Weast, the burden is placed on the district when it seeks to change an IEP. The brief explained why placing the burden of proof on parents in such cases would be unfair, violate public policy and undermine the goals of the IDEA.
Schaffer v. Weast (United States Supreme Court 2005)
The Schaffer case presented the U.S. Supreme Court with the critical issue of who should bear the burden of proof in contested special education cases – the school district or the student with the disability. The amicus brief endorses the student-plaintiff’s position that the burden should be placed on the district. The brief argues that giving the burden to districts implements Congress’s affirmative mandate, under IDEA, that school districts locate, identify, evaluate and appropriately educate children with disabilities.
L.E. v. Ramsey Bd. of Educ. (Third Circuit Court of Appeals 2005)
ELC and seven other local and national advocacy groups appeared as amici in this case regarding the “least restrictive environment” for a young child with multiple disabilities. The amicus brief advised the court of the wealth of social science literature supporting the many benefits of inclusion to students both with and without disabilities.
Bd. of Educ. of the Borough of Englewood Cliffs v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of Englewood (New Jersey State Board of Education 2005; New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, 2005)
ELC appeared on its own behalf and on behalf of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP as amici in this 20-year-old, landmark desegregation case involving the racial segregation of Black and Latino students at the district high school. The amicus briefs argued that the State Board should make any award of funds contingent upon Englewood taking specific measures to ensure integration at its high school.
Estate of Jeffreys v. State of New Jersey (New Jersey District Court 2000)
Hallen v. Union Beach Bd. of Educ. (New Jersey District Court 2000)
F.P. v. State of New Jersey (New Jersey District Court 2000)
ELC appeared on its own behalf and on behalf of 13 other local and national civil rights and educational advocacy organizations as amici in these three cases in which the State filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against it under IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), alleging that the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevented such suits on sovereign immunity grounds. The amicus brief apprised the court of the serious consequences of allowing the State to escape liability under IDEA, the ADA and Section 504.