by Jessica Mokhiber
The Fall 2014 edition of Philanthropy Magazine includes an article, Suing for Reform by Ashley May, which examines the recent use of lawsuits in education reform.
One of the most notable trials began in January when nine California students sued the state in an effort to challenge the teacher tenure laws there. The current laws make it very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to dismiss teachers, no matter how bad. The student plaintiffs in Vergara v. State of California argued that the inability to fire bad teachers violated the students’ constitutional rights. They testified with a laundry-list of shocking stories of ineffective teaching. They also argued that the teacher tenure laws in California disproportionately harm low-income and minority students, which is also a violation of the state’s guarantee of equal access to education.
This past June, they won.
Their fight isn’t over, as the appeals process is now taking place. But this case illustrates the ability of families and students to use the justice system to fight problems and inequalities they see in public education.
Here at home, five Western New York families have recently filed a landmark charter school funding lawsuit. Brown v. New York challenges the constitutionality of the funding scheme used by the state to allocate money to charter schools.
These parents argue that the state’s funding scheme dictates that their children only receive between 60 and 75 cents on every dollar that a child in a traditional district school receives. Charter schools also do not have access to facilities funding. These inequities deny them access to a “sound basic education”, as required by the State Constitution.
Also, since 90% of New York State’s charter school students are children of color, the plaintiffs argue the funding formula has a disproportionate impact on minority students.
Brown v. New York is in its very early stages, and it is too soon to tell what the result will be. But what we do know is that these five families have shown resolve and courage as they publicly fight for what New York’s charter students deserve.
For more on the case and profiles of the families, click here.
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