Should the US Constitution guarantee a right to education?
- While most countries make education a constitutional right — and in some cases, a mandate — the United States doesn't. Almost all states, The Atlantic reported, have filed educational equity suits, and in Rhode Island, a new class-action lawsuit being filed by 14 public school students and parents accuses the state of failing to give people the tools they need to exercise their constitutional rights.
- Because education isn't explicitly stated as a U.S. constitutional right, the plaintiffs argue students' 14th Amendment rights are violated because they aren't prepared for citizenship and civic duties like voting, The New York Times reported — and unlike some other states, Rhode Island doesn't include any civics or citizenship education in its curriculum frameworks.
- All 50 states guarantee the creation of a public education system in their constitutions, but some argue that as a result, factors like the amount of public school funding and quality of education vary significantly at the local level, depending on where a student lives. It's an ongoing battle that's more than 40 years old, and with the potential to reach the Supreme Court, it could have major implications for education in America.
While the current battleground for this argument is set in Rhode Island, similar fights have gone on around the country for decades. In the 1970s, a group of mainly Latino, low-income Texas parents filed a lawsuit arguing that a number of districts in the San Antonio area, like the Edgewood Independent School District, didn't get the same funding as other nearby, affluent, mostly white districts like Alamo Heights. They said this violated the 14th Amendment, but the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote that it didn't agree. In its decision, the court also ruled that in challenging school finance formulas, the equal protection clause can't be used.
The San Antonio parents didn't win their suit, but at the state level, others have. In 1995, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that all children in the state are guaranteed the opportunity for a "sound basic education." And some are still fighting: In Michigan, a case filed in 2016 claims the state denied students in Detroit from learning to read and argues for a right to literacy.
While these issues are broad and overarching, they affect local school leaders and administrators in every state. Inequity is a hotly debated topic in today's education sector. The achievement gap is alive and well, with students of color in low-poverty schools still behind their white, higher-income peers. And some results show racial gaps aren't just staying stagnant — in some areas, they're widening.
Prioritizing district practices that aid low-income students and students of color is one step to addressing the achievement gap. Research-based strategies — including personalized instruction, mental health resources, racially diverse teachers and responding to trauma — are among the practices experts recommend to help bridge this gap. Outside the classroom, non-discriminatory discipline policies and implicit bias training for teachers and staff members is helpful to ensure students are treated equally and fairly.
Some also argue that forcing students to attend a school based on their zip code lends itself to segregation, and while this kind of policy doesn't change overnight, teachers who act as advocates can help spur the changes they want to see in education.
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