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ELC STANDING UP FOR EDUCATION RIGHTS ACROSS THE NATION

November 30, 2016

We’re best known at Education Law Center for our groundbreaking work in representing New Jersey’s most vulnerable students in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case. The Abbott rulings for fair school funding, universal high quality preschool, and safe and adequate school buildings are considered by many to be the most important decisions on education rights since Brown v. Board of Education.

Over the last few years, ELC has partnered with public interest lawyers, law firms and advocates across the country to represent public school children in court to address egregious violations of their education rights. Here’s a recap of our current litigation docket:

MICHIGAN

In Flint, ELC, in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and the White & Case law firm, is representing pro bono thousands of children now at-risk of developing a disability requiring special education services because the State exposed them to elevated lead levels in the city’s water supply for an extended period. Lead poisoning is recognized under the federal special education law as a condition that causes disabilities based on research evidence of the harmful neurologic and other health effects that impair student learning.

The lawsuit, D.R. v. Michigan Department of Education, demands immediate action by the State and local districts to address both the urgent need for early intervention and ongoing violations of children’s special education rights, including:

  • Failure to provide early screening and intervention services for children ages 3-5, including universal high quality preschool;
  • Failure to identify and evaluate K-12 students in need of special education services; and
  • Failure to provide K-12 special education services in the least restrictive environment.

More information about D.R. v. Michigan Department of Education is available here.

NEW YORK

ELC continues to represent parents and children in three New York cases:

1) Parents in Albany, Yonkers and New York City are suing the Governor’s Division of Budget for funds promised as part of the State’s “Transformation Grant” program. Under this plan, 20 schools on the “persistently failing” list were eligible for grants totaling $75 million over two years to support improvement efforts. All 20 schools received the first-year grant in 2015-2016. But when nine schools demonstrated improvement with the aid of these funds, they were removed from the “persistently failing” list and denied the year two improvement grant. The plaintiffs argue that withholding year two funds not only punishes schools for their gains, but violates the law authorizing the Transformation Grant program.

More information on the receivership grant lawsuit is available here.

2) East Ramapo parents have filed a “mandamus” petition with the State Supreme Court to enforce and protect their children’s constitutional right to a “sound basic education.” Citing poor student outcomes and overwhelming state and federal evidence of longstanding fiscal mismanagement and neglect by the East Ramapo Board of Education, the parents are seeking a court order directing the NY State Board of Regents and the State Education Department to intervene on behalf of students and schools.

More information about the East Ramapo petition is available here.

3) In Maisto v. State of NY, parents from eight, high poverty, small city school districts are seeking adequate funding for a “sound basic education.” At issue is the state’s failure to fully fund the Foundation Aid Formula, a 2007 legislative measure promising distribution of $5.5 billion in state school aid to high need, low property wealth districts over four years. The State froze formula funds in 2009, and then cut school aid in 2010-2011 to balance the State budget. The plaintiffs are currently appealing dismissal of this case after trial by the State Supreme Court.

More information about Maisto v. State of NY is available here.

NEVADA

ELC and a pro bono legal team represented Nevada public school parents in the lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz. The parents recently celebrated a landmark Nevada Supreme Court victory declaring the state’s controversial and unlimited voucher law unconstitutional. The program would have diverted taxpayer funds allocated by the State Legislature for public education into “Education Savings Accounts,” allowing families (of any income level) to use these funds to pay for private school tuition and expenses. 

The parent plaintiffs, represented by ELC and the Munger, Tolles & Olson and Wolf Rifkin law firms and supported by Educate Nevada Now (ENN), filed the lawsuit to prevent the loss of public school funding to pay for private school tuition and other expenses, even for the wealthy.  The funding loss would have triggered severe staff and program cuts in the state’s already underfunded public schools. The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the parents that the State Constitution prohibits the use of public education funds for any purpose other than the provision of public education. The Court permanently blocked implementation of the voucher program. 

ELC, a founding supporter of ENN, will continue work on this advocacy campaign supported by the Rogers Foundation to improve education for Nevada’s 440,000 public school students.   

More information about Lopez v. Schwartz is available here.

…and back in NEW JERSEY

ELC and the ACLU of NJ are co-counsel for several civil rights and parent advocacy organizations challenging New Jersey’s new high school graduation requirements. The new graduation regulations require that students pass the controversial PARCC exams to receive a diploma and prevent those who opt out of PARCC testing from graduating.

The lawsuit, brought by the Paterson Education Fund, the Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of NJ and the NJ NAACP, claims that the new regulations violate the 1979 law establishing an 11th-grade test. Since the PARCC English Language Arts test is administered in 10th grade, and the PARCC Algebra 1 test is given at various times in middle and high school, these tests do not meet the requirements of the statute. 

More information about the graduation lawsuit is available here.

ELC is again representing the state’s urban school children in another round of Abbott litigationAbbott XXII – opposing a request by Governor Chris Christie to the NJ Supreme Court to halt the use of the state’s model weighted student funding formula (the School Funding Reform Act of 2008) and to give the Commissioner of Education unlimited power to change teacher workforce rules and collective bargaining agreements, bypassing the legislative process.

More information about Abbott XXII is available here.

 

Press Contact:

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