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NBC News - October 28, 2019

"While inequities like these exist in many parts of the United States, some states have addressed such imbalances in the wake ofcourt rulingsthat established the right to education under state constitutions. Those rulings have forced state legislatures to find more equitable ways to distribute education dollars."

After two years of struggling to pass any of his community college classes, Jamarria Hall, 19, knows this for certain: His high school did not prepare him.

The four years he spent at Detroit’s Osborn High School were “a big waste of time,” he said, recalling 11th and 12th grade English classes where students were taught from materials labeled for third or fourth graders, and where long-term substitutes showed movies instead of teaching.

What’s less certain, however, is whether Hall's education in Detroit’s long-troubled school district was so awful, so insufficient, that it violated his constitutional rights.

That’s the question now before a federal appeals court that heard arguments last week in one of two cases that experts say could have sweeping implications for schools across the country.

The cases, now snaking their way through the federal courts, could yield “enormous, almost earth-shattering change in terms of educational funding and educational opportunity,” said Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina whose research has focused on educational rights and constitutional law.

The Detroit case was filed in 2016 on behalf of Hall and other students who attended rodent-infested, crumbling schools that lacked certified teachers and up-to-date textbooks. It argued that appalling conditions, including an eighth grader who taught math to his classmates for a month after his teacher quit, denied students a basic right to literacy.

A similar case was filed on behalf of students in Rhode Island last year, asserting that they were denied a basic civics education.

If either case succeeds and is ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, Black said, it would establish for the first time that students have a “fundamental right” to an education that meets minimum standards of quality.

“It would lay down a huge marker in terms of how all the states across the nation fund or don’t fund their schools,” Black said.

And that would give new power to students.

“Every school in the country would be affected,” said Michael Rebell, a Teachers College, Columbia University professor who brought the Rhode Island case. “It would mean that students in other urban areas or rural areas that think they’re getting a totally inadequate education would have a basis to go to federal court and say, ‘Our system isn’t teaching basic literacy and we have a right to it.’ There could be a lot of litigation.”

‘It was really heartbreaking’

The case heard Thursday in Cincinnati before a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals put the blame for Detroit students’ troubles on the state of Michigan. The state had taken control of Detroit’s main school district from the locally elected school board for much of the last two decades, while encouraging scores of new charter schools to open and siphon students away.

But many charter schools in the city also face alarming conditions. The suit reflects that by including students from both kinds of schools.

One teacher, Renee Schenkman, said she helped the lawyers in the case document conditions in her charter school, Experiencia Preparatory Academy, which has since closed. ...
Read full report at NBC News