Thursday, December 09, 2004

It ain't about the money

Education leaders -- especially those from the business community -- like to say that the problems with schools isn't fundamentally about money. They'll then proceed to tell you what it's about. But I'm reminded of H.L. Mencken's words: Whenever somebody tells you it isn't about money, it is.

And so the flurry of trials over school funding continues:
  • In South Carolina, a lawsuit brought by the state's poorest districts ended yesterday with closing arguments. It began in the summer of 2003. There were over 100 days of proceedings and 70 witnesses. The Judge is expected to rule by next summer.
  • In North Carolina, the State Board of Education has provided $20 million for the state's poorest teachers and students in response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that they must provide "a sound education" to all children. The Court ruled that they would need to provide $220 million. I'm no math teacher -- oh, yes I am -- but I think they're about $200 million short.
  • I wrote last week about a Texas District Judge's ruling that Texas schools must be closed on October 1, 2005 if the Legislature doesn't fix the school funding formula. The Austin Chronicle's Mike King has a nice summary in this weekend's edition.
  • The Montana Supreme Court got in on the act, too, and ruled that the Leg of that state must provide more than $150 million in additional funds -- again, to meet the constitutional mandate for adequate education.

Do you sense a trend here?

Now, I'm not saying the business leaders are totally wrong. Clearly, no matter how much money goes to schools, if it's spent unwisely no good will come from it. But on the other hand, no matter how good your teachers are, no matter how good your instructional programs are, no matter how rich your curriculum is, if your school is falling apart, if you can't heat or cool your building, if you can't afford to buy instructional materials, it's going to be very difficult to provide anything approaching an adequate education.

Kudos to the courts for calling foul on negligent legislatures. Remember, if they say it's not about money, it most definitely is.

Transferring to a better school or a better team?

Is this something we'll see more of? It seems a high school basketball player might have transferred to another high school -- as is his right under No Child Left Behind -- for something other than academics.

I've never heard of something like this happening before, but I could see it becoming a very big problem in the future.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Don't ask, don't discriminate

It is very possible that a recent 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision could have a major impact on a very controversial part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

NCLB requires that high schools allow military recruiters access to campuses and a list of each students' name, address, and phone number. Failure to comply with that provision of the Act can result in the revocation of federal funds.

But last week, the 3rd Circuit Appeals Court ruled that law schools can prohibit military recruiters from their campuses without losing federal funds. The decision reversed a District Court opinion that said the "Solomon Amendment," passed in 1994, is legal. The amendment said that any law school denying access to military recruiters would lose all federal grants from the Department of Defense to any department or college within their university. A few years later, the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Transportation were added to the list of grantees who would cut funds to universities who prohibited military recruiters' access.

The law schools, through the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), argued that the military's anti-gay policies presented a conflict of interest to their stated position of protecting gay rights. As a matter of policy, law schools accredited by the AALS do not allow organizations or companies that discriminate to recruit on campus. Since the military expels known homosexuals under the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the law schools prohibited military recruiters on the grounds that they represent a discriminatory organization. The 3rd Circuit Appeals Court upheld their First Amendment right to do that.

It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will overrule them.

So does this open the door for high school administrators to sue the federal government based on the 3rd Circuit's precedent? Absolutely.

According to the American Association of School Administrators' (AASA) 2004 Platform, "[The] AASA supports zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination." And the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) requires that principals "maintain equal treatment for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or disability." They assert that all students have a right to "an environment that is free from discrimination..."

The San Francisco and Portland school districts had reversed a policy of banning military recruiters (also because of discrimination against gays) due to the provision of NCLB that requires they allow them. If they choose to once again bar the military from schools -- and refuse to provide them with lists of students' names and phone numbers -- now they would most certainly have the legal authority to do so.

(For the 3rd Circuit's decision, click here. For an analysis of the decision by a Columbia Law school professor, click here. For more on military recruitment and NCLB, click here.)

Abstinence-only vs. Medical Accuracy

Last week, I reported on a congressional study that showed that 11 out of 13 federally funded abstinence-only programs included medical inaccuracies. What I failed to notice is that Lambda Legal is investigating each state's abstinence-only programs for possible violations of Medical Accuracy Laws. After reading the aforementioned congressional study, I think they'll have some very compelling cases.

Lambda Legal also has some excellent resources for administrators, teachers, students, and parents who are concerned about the abstinence-only trend. Check them out here.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Alabama update

An interesting side note to the story I covered briefly last week about Alabama's refusal to remove school segregation from the Constitution. It appears that Roy Moore, the judge now famous for defying a federal order to remove the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, was urging voters to vote against the Constitutional amendment because part of it would have said that every child has a right to a public education. If that got into the Constititution, Moore reasoned, it would open the way for lawsuits.

I detest Moore and all he stands for, but after reading about court cases in many other states (see below), you can't help but wonder if he isn't correct.

For an opinion piece on the Alabama fiasco (is that redundant?), click here.

North Carolina gets judicious

North Carolina is often invoked as a model for how states can manage public education. But it appears the Tar Heel state is, like most states, short on cash for schools. And, like Texas, Kentucky, and New York, the state courts are getting involved:

Tomorrow, a judge in Wake County is scheduled to open hearings on a long-range plan to help tens of thousands of poor students in North Carolina who live in poorer areas unable to spend adequate money on public schools.

It is the next step in a long-overdue overhaul that will require the state to commit money and energy to reshape the way it approaches public education.

The article goes on to say that the gap between expenditures of rich and poor districts is nearly $2,000 per student. And again, the mantra -- as it is so many other states -- is that the paltry funding levels make it impossible for the state to fulfill its constitutional mandate to educate all children.

It appears the judicial branch will continue to assert itself in education policy. How effective this brand of judicial activism can be remains to be seen.

School finance and the courts

This morning's New York Times has an interesting article about judicial decisions concerning school finance. The writer sets it up as "a hopeful but cautionary tale" for New York educators excited about a judicial panel's recommendation that the NYC schools be infused with over $5 billion in new funds. Apparently, Kentucky's Supreme Court ordered additional spending way back in 1990. Test scores are up, but not enough to declare full success.

In a similar development, a Texas judge ruled last week that Texas schools must receive more cash to fulfill their consititutional purpose for "a broad diffusion of knowledge."

And finally, the Economist ran an article last month about how "the courts are making a mess of America's schools." Since you can't access the article without a login, I'll quote from it at length with some commentary later today. If you are a subscriber to the Economist, lucky you. Click here.
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