Access to Education in Massachusetts: The Education Project Visits PILP

Kicking off the 2017-2018 Public Leadership Interest Program (“PILP”), the PILP class dedicated the month of October to discuss current issues in access to education. On October 11, Matt Cregor, the Director of the Education Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice*, visited the PILP class to discuss the work of the Education Project and two hot topics affecting access to education in the Commonwealth: charter schools and school discipline.

Cregor described the ongoing efforts related to charter school reform, beginning with the failed legislative efforts in the early 2010s, 2016’s Ballot Question 2, and the currently-pending case of Doe v. Peyser, argued in early October at the Supreme Judicial Court. Through all three avenues, reformers have sought to lift the statutory cap on charter schools, arguing that it “arbitrarily and unconstitutionally deprives [students not granted entry into charter schools] of the opportunity to receive an adequate public education.” Proponents of the cap, however, argue that the cap protects funding to traditional public schools, which serve more students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners.

Cregor also described The Education Project’s focus on school discipline and its impact on access to education. The effects of school discipline are acute: just one out-of-school suspension has been found to double a student’s likelihood of dropping out of school. The Education Project is concerned by the high rates of suspensions — particularly out-of-school suspensions — used in Massachusetts public and charter schools, and the disparate use of these practices on students of color and students with disabilities. Cregor and the PILP class also discussed the state of school discipline in the Commonwealth both before and after the passage of Chapter 222, a new law effective as of 2014 to reduce reliance on out-of-school suspensions. The PILP classed also learned of ways to volunteer with The Education Project’s efforts in working to see that the law is implemented faithfully by Massachusetts schools. Attorneys can volunteer through the Lawyers’ Committee to take pro bono cases, as well as present School Discipline Know Your Rights presentations to students, parents, and community organizations.

For more information on The Education Project, please visit http://lawyerscom.org/projects/education/ 

Meeting recap provided by PILP Members Marley Ann Brumme (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates) and David Chorney (Donoghue Barrett & Singal).

*The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice is a 2017 grantee of the Boston Bar Foundation.