The Source of Education Law
Though there is a cabinet level Secretary of Education and a federal Department of Education, the actual operation of public schools in the United States is a state responsibility. The federal government provides some funding to the states, but approximately 90% of the dollars needed to run public schools come from state and local revenues. The funds contributed by the federal government are typically targeted to schools where they are most needed and can do the most good.
The function of most federal legislation governing education and schools has been to ensure fair and equal access to educational opportunities. Examples include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects the rights of students based on race or ethnic origin
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which mandates equal treatment based on gender
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the rights of students with disabilities
The Right to Direct Your Child’s Education
Under American laws, a parent may choose to send a child to a public or a private school. States are given the authority to regulate private schools, but the power is somewhat limited, as most private schools have religious affiliations, and states have to be careful about restricting the freedom of religion. Because most funding for public education comes from tax revenues, there have been a number of cases that addressed issues related to public funding of private schools, as well as the right of parents whose children attend private schools to refuse to pay taxes to support public schools.
Special Education Programs
The federal Disabilities Education Act, binding on all states, establishes a program for evaluating the special needs of a child, and for the development of an individualized education program (IEP). Most states have their own statutes that mirror the Disabilities Education Act, and that grant specific rights to the parents of special education students, including the right to inspect school records.
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