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ERIC Number: ED573117
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Oct
Pages: 47
Abstractor: ERIC
Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low Income Students. Part 1: A Legal Framework
Rebell, Michael A.
Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University
Raising academic standards and eliminating achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students are America's prime national educational goals. Current federal and state policies, however, largely ignore the fact that the childhood poverty rate in the United States is 21%, the highest in the industrialized world, and that poverty substantially impedes these children's ability to learn and to succeed in school. In addition to important school-based educational resources like effective teaching, reasonable class sizes, and up-to-date learning materials, these children need additional comprehensive services, specifically, early childhood, health, after-school and other extended learning opportunities, and family supports. These services can be provided cost-effectively, and it is vital not only to children's welfare, but also to the country's democratic future and continued economic competitiveness in the global marketplace that such comprehensive services be provided on a large scale. This first of a five part series seeks to establish a moral, statutory, and constitutional basis for a right to comprehensive educational opportunity. The asserted right has firm ideological underpinnings in the "American dream" credo that affirms the competitive nature of our society, but justifies its fairness on a presumption that all children will be provided a basic education that will prepare them to go as far as their individual talents and motivation will take them. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) implicitly establishes a statutory right to comprehensive educational opportunity through its stated goal of providing "fair, equal and substantial" educational opportunities to all children and its mandate that all children be proficient in meeting challenging state standards by 2014; in the pending reauthorization of NCLB this implicit right should be made explicit. The constitutional arguments are based on both state and federal precedents. Dozens of state courts throughout the country have held that children have a constitutional right to a "sound basic education"; some of these cases have specifically held that the state constitution imposes an obligation on the state to create an education that overcomes the effects of poverty. The federal argument is based on an extensive consideration of a broad range of equal protection cases under all three of the Supreme Court's equal protection categories. First, probing an issue the Court left open in "San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez," 411 U.S. 1 (1973); evidence and precedents from the state sound basic education cases demonstrate that that an adequate education is a necessary pre-requisite for students to exercise their free speech and voting rights; a sound basic education-- and one that incorporates necessary comprehensive services--therefore, does constitute a fundamental interest under the federal constitution, a denial of which is entitled to strict scrutiny analysis. Next based on the precedent of "Plyler v. Doe," 457 U.S. 202 (1982), failing to provide children from backgrounds of poverty a meaningful educational opportunity will "perpetuate a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime," and their plight is, therefore, entitled at least to intermediate level scrutiny. Finally, even under the less demanding rational relationship standard, recent "second order" precedents indicate that the present practice of providing some, but far from all, low income students with vitally needed comprehensive services creates "two tiers" of citizens, a pattern that strongly offends the concept of equal protection. [The author is grateful to the Smart Family Foundation, the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation for their support of this research. For "Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low Income Students. Part 2: How Much Does It Cost?," see ED573119; for "Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low Income Students. Part 3: How Much Does New York City Now Spend on Children's Services?, see ED573121; for "Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low Income Students. Part 4: What Are the Social and Economic Returns?," see ED573122; and for "Providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity to Low Income Students. Part 5: A Proposal for Essential Standards and Resources. A Report of the Task Force on Comprehensive Educational Opportunity," see ED573123.]
Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University. Box 219, 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 646-745-8282; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Columbia University, Campaign for Educational Equity
Identifiers - Location: New York; New Jersey; Kentucky; North Carolina; Washington; South Carolina; Alaska; Arkansas; Massachusetts; Texas; Colorado; New Mexico; Maryland
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: No Child Left Behind Act 2001; Rodriguez v San Antonio Independent School District; Doe v Plyler; Elementary and Secondary Education Act; Rose v Council for Better Education; Brown v Board of Education; Goals 2000; Abbott v Burke; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Education for All Handicapped Children Act