• Urban Law Bulletin

The Urban Law Bulletin: Education Issue October 16, 2019

The Urban Law Bulletin is a bi-weekly e-newsletter highlighting significant news and legal developments in the field of urban law. This education issue is guest edited by Dr. Steven L. Nelson, Assistant Professor of Education Law and Policy in the Department of Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Memphis. The articles Dr. Nelson has selected for this issue reflect the broad range of legal and social policy conflicts affecting urban education today.



In this special issue of the Urban Law Bulletin, we consider the impact of law on urban education. In the context of education, ‘urban’ has become and remains an issue of race and social justice. Education law, while relatively under-researched as compared to other areas of law and policy, provides space for an examination and critique of the ways in which law intersects with education to provide opportunity for racial and social justice while also providing the opportunity for racial subjugation and the rollback of civil rights. Many people refer to education and schools as microcosms of our general society. If this is true, then urban education law might be a microscope that enables an examination to reveal the true context of urban society. Thus, this issue of the Urban Law Bulletin is important to understanding the impact of law on education, the impact of law on urban education, and the functioning – writ large – of urban society.

We cover three distinct topics that are at the forefront of urban education law. All three topics are issues of race and social justice. First, we consider the state takeover or reconstitution of public schools and school districts. Authorized by federal and state law, the state takeover of public schools disproportionately impacts predominantly Black and Brown schools and school districts. Next, we consider the splintering of school districts. Once frowned upon as an attempt to end-run desegregation orders, recent reports suggest that many predominantly white and affluent communities are seeking to create their own school districts, leaving behind less economically stable communities and school districts that are also disproportionately Black and Brown. Finally, we highlight issues of gentrification. In particular, we consider the role of gentrification in destabilizing communities through school closings. Policies that allow and mandate school closings have targeted poor and minoritized communities, providing an entry point for wealthier, whiter citizens to take hold of undervalued property. This action, as a policy, skews both access and privileges towards wealthier, whiter populations. Given these three issues, it is relatively easy to understand that issues of race and social justice dominate the landscape of urban education law. This makes this issue of the Urban Law Bulletin that much more important.

Always in the interest of equity,

Steven L. Nelson, J.D., Ph.D.


State Takeovers

State Takeover #education

Florida Education Commissioner Suggests Takeover Authority for Long-Struggling Schools

“Florida school districts that fail to follow state rules to improve persistently low performing schools . . . need to face the possibility of state takeover[,]” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stated earlier this year. His remarks derived from frustration in observing turnaround plans to improve state exam outcomes for Duval County’s low performing schools. At the turnaround plan presentation, Corcoran pressed Duval superintendent Diana Greene on why she had not included plans to adopt a “‘Schools of Hope’” program, to “ease[] the path for state-approved charter school providers to open in high-poverty communities.” Greene responded such a program was not “acceptable to her community.” A state takeover of Duval County schools would be the third instituted by the Florida State Board of Education in the past two years.

The Freedom High School color guard opened the Florida Board of Education meeting May 22, 2019, at Mort Elementary in Tampa. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]


State Takeover #education

State Would Take Over Schools After Six Years of Failing to Improve, Under New Plan

This September, a proposal was put forth before the Ohio Senate that would give failing Ohio school districts six years to show improvements before state intervention. The proposal would provide state-funded analysis to improve schools and replace “Academic Distress Commissions” with a State Transformation Board and School Improvement Commissions (SIC). The Ohio School Boards Association opposes this plan, claiming that these new state funded commissions would achieve little in the way of reform, “‘sidelin[ing] the locally elected board of education,’” while giving the head of the SIC “too many powers.” Others, including the Ohio Education Association, support the proposal arguing that it gives districts opportunity to improve.

Jennifer Hogue, the legislative services director of the Ohio School Boards Association, tells the state Senate Education Committee that its new state takeover proposal simply renames the controversial Academic Distress Commissions that have failed so far.


School District Splintering

School District Splintering #education

An increasing number of communities across the country are leaving their school districts to start their own. Zahava Stadler, director of policy at EdBuild, a nonprofit that advocates for fairness in public-school funding, highlighted the concerns regarding this movement: “‘A clear majority of the successful seceding communities have higher median incomes, higher property values and lower student poverty rates; serve fewer nonwhite students; and have higher local tax rates for school districts than the districts being left behind[.]’” Former Jefferson County, Alabama Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey sees district secession “as a shift back toward segregation, and a reversal of civil rights laws.”

The city of Gardendale, Alabama, tried but failed in 2018 to carve its own district out of Jefferson County Schools, when a court ruled the effort was racially motivated


School District Splintering #education

Resegregation of Baton Rouge Public Schools

Since 2012, “wealthy parents in the southeastern corner of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, an area known as St. George” have been vying for their own school district, “argu[ing] that the schools in East Baton Rouge were . . . among the lowest performing in the state . . . . In 2015, their first signature petition came up short after Together Baton Rouge’s “Better Together” campaign against the proposal, which resulted in withdrawal of 1,000 signatures. EdBuild reported that seventy-three communities have split to form their own school districts since 2000. Many Baton Rouge residents argue that this secession plan is “an attempt to further segregate the public schools, leaving the city’s black students with fewer resources and opportunities.”

Chris Kindred


School Gentrification

School Gentrification #education

Gentrification, School Closings, and Displacement in Chicago

In several cities with large, low-income black populations, school closings are becoming a familiar phenomenon. A look into Chicago’s plan to close over fifty schools reveals a possible trend of local government “shutter[ing]” schools to accommodate gentrification. In the Bronzeville neighborhood, “attractively situated near Lake Michigan and the downtown Loop[,]” the student population dwindled with families seeking better schools because Chicago Public School (CPS) officials lowered their budgets for underperforming. In relation to closure, officials said schools were “underutilized.” Chicago residents suggested that schools’ closures were to “clear… neighborhood[s] of African American undesirables.”

(Photo: Don Harder/Flickr/cc)


School Gentrification #education

‘Threatening the Future’: The High Stakes of Deepening School Segregation

Fights about segregation and how to foster classroom diversity are becoming more common in the wake of school secession movements, where newly formed majority-white districts are rising. A report by The Civil Rights Project revealed that “the percentage of intensely segregated schools, defined as those where less than 10 percent of the student body is white, tripled between 1988 and 2016, from 6 to 18 percent.” Several policy remedies to the deepening in segregation, such as magnet schools or busing to other school districts, to increase integration, have been both proposed and debated.

Students arrive at school in Chicago. A new report found that school segregation across the country was deeper in 2016 than it was in 1988.CreditCreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times


We thank the Urban Law Center’s Urban Law Student Fellows and Guest Editor Dr. Steven L. Nelson for assisting in preparation of this special issue of The Bulletin.

If you have an article, legal decision, or commentary that you would like to share in an upcoming Bulletin, please e-mail it to urbanlaw@fordham.edu.

Subscribe to The Urban Law Bulletin here.

The Urban Law Center at Fordham University School of Law

Nestor M. Davidson

Faculty Director, Urban Law Center

Geeta Tewari

Associate Director | Urban Law Fellow, Urban Law Center

Dr. Steven L. Nelson

Assistant Professor of Education Law and Education Policy, Department of Leadership & Policy Studies, University of Memphis

Non-Resident Faculty Fellow, Urban Law Center

Dr. Nelson holds a Ph.D from the Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Education Policy Studies and J.D from the University of Iowa College of Law. His work interrogates the intersection of education law and policy, urbanicity, and race. In particular, Dr. Nelson’s work looks at the impact of state takeovers of public schools on student discipline, the role of education reform policies in rolling back traditional civil rights in education, and the intersection of education reform and access to higher education for marginalized students. With most of his work focusing on urban settings, Dr. Nelson considers himself an urban education law scholar.

Urban Law Student Fellow Contributors

Quinn D’Isa

Justin Meshulam

Haleigh Zilges