As Students Head Back to School, Lawyers Head Back to Court
Posted Sep 2, 2008 10:20 AM CDT
By Martha Neil
As students start another school year, litigation over their education is on a number of minds.
In Chicago, as many as 2,000 predominantly minority students are boycotting the first day of school today and taking special buses to public schools in the upscale suburb of Winnetka, in support of efforts to equalize school funding, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Organizers are lobbying the state legislature to find a way to narrow the gap between what suburban and inner-city school districts spend on education, which is largely funded by local property taxes. "Chicago each year spends just $10,000 per pupil whereas suburbs like Winnetka can spend as much as $17,000," writes Time magazine. Similarly stark gaps exist between high school graduation rates: 100 percent at New Trier, in Winnetka, versus just 55 percent at all Chicago public schools.
Represented by the Chicago-based law firm of Jenner & Block, which is particularly known for its litigation work, the Chicago Urban League and Quad County Urban League filed a civil rights suit against the state last month in Cook County Circuit Court over the school funding disparity, contending that it is unconstitutional, the Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier.
"Fifty-four years after Brown v. Board of Ed, our schools remain separate and unequal," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the newspaper. "There is essentially a two-track system. Apartheid is rationalized as a funding mechanism. This is beneath the American promise, beneath the law."
A trial is scheduled to start today in a lawsuit in South Dakota, which could eventually have an impact on more than half of the state's schools. Brought by a group of parents, it contends that the state violates the South Dakota constitution by not spending enough on education, reports the Associated Press (reg. req.).
Presently, funding of $4,642 per child is guaranteed, from a combination of state money and local property tax. However, officials contend that South Dakota students do better than many students in other states on standardized tests, even though other states often spend more to educate children.
Meanwhile, in Wichita, Kan., students at a parochial school are speaking English among themselves after a federal judge's recent ruling that the school's English-only policy—which he said was not implemented as diplomatically as it should have been—was nonetheless constitutional, according to the Wichita Eagle.
Litigation over education isn't restricted to those with serious problems, however. On an individual basis, well-to-do modern-day parents are doing their bit to help keep lawyers busy by taking aggressive approaches even to minor issues, reports the London Times, in an assessment that appears likely to apply as well to their American counterparts.
"One London school, for example, recently received a three-page fax from a top solicitor after parents objected to their child receiving a detention," the British newspaper writes.