Education

  • July 5, 2017

    by Kaiya Lyons

    At the 2017 ACS National Convention, Professor William Yeomans concluded the breakout panel on whether to serve in an unfriendly administration by emphasizing to the room of current, former and aspiring government lawyers that public service “really is a lawyer’s highest calling.” But for too many law students, the choice to pursue that higher calling comes at a high price, as student loan debt continues to rise well beyond most public interest wages. Later in the day, ACS Board member David Frederick had a simple solution—“make law school less expensive.”

    During the “Progressive Federalism” plenary, Frederick declared that massive student loan debt is the “number one impediment to law students going out and doing public service jobs.” To support his assertion, Frederick pointed to the time-honored tradition of public interest-minded grads spending two to three years in BigLaw to pay down their student loans before entering public service. Frederick explained that, instead of starting in public service, “law students are often forced into corporate law firms” for years to pay off their loans, a practice he characterized as a type of “indentured servitude.” While this image sparked laughter and jokes from the other panelists, Frederick maintained the veracity of his comparison and went on to stress that legal education must be more affordable in order for young lawyers to pursue public interest.

    Forgiveness in Exchange for Services Rendered

    However, much to our collective disappointment, law school tuition hikes show no signs of decreasing, nor does a decrease in tuition rates seem likely. Therefore, law students and recent grads have two options: (1) take the tried-and-true path of their predecessors and enter the corporate sector for a few years with the hope that they will be able to move into the public sector later, or (2) take advantage of the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and be able to work in public interest law immediately after graduation and have their debt erased after ten years.

  • June 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on The Global Legal Post's blog on June 30, 2017

    by Reuben Guttman, Partner, Guttman, Buschner, & Brooks

    Legal academics are sniffy about practitioners who teach. But, says Reuben Guttman, this outdated view does a disservice to the legal profession.

    Scholarship means academic study or achievement. It is word without rigid limitations except perhaps when it comes to law schools which more and more are interpreting the word “scholarship” to mean theoretical endeavor not directly connected to the practice of law. This may seem odd but it is quite true. Today the word "scholarship" seems, in part, used as a pretext to discriminate against those whose academic endeavours favour the actual practice of law. Surprisingly, those whose work entails writing case books, legal treatises, or teaching classes on trial advocacy, are not what law school insiders call scholars. This means they are not favoured for tenure track positions or prestigious chairs. Sometimes they are relegated to the title of "professor of practice," which means that their endeavors are so connected to actual legal work that they cannot just be known as a professor.

  • June 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by LaJuana Davis, Professor of Law, Samford University Cumberland School of Law

    Four mothers of Mississippi schoolchildren filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last week charging the state has failed to provide for public education under the requirements of an 1870 law that set conditions of the state’s readmission to the Union following the Civil War. The suit’s plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have asked the court to void amendments to the state’s education article enacted after Reconstruction and restore education rights guaranteed under the 1868 constitution. Specifically, the suit claims that the state violated the Congressional Act of 1870 that conditioned Mississippi’s readmission to the Union on the state agreeing to never deprive its citizens of “school rights and privileges” secured by the 1868 state constitution. However, the complaint alleges, subsequent amendments to those school guarantees have resulted in a minimalist education clause that simply allows the legislature discretion to provide for whatever public school education that the legislature sees fit.

    The suit’s lead defendant, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, responded in a statement that the suit was simply a fundraising attempt by SPLC “on the backs of Mississippi taxpayers.” While Gov. Bryant may be irritated by the second challenge to Mississippi’s education scheme brought by SPLC in a year, Mississippi has had far fewer education adequacy lawsuits than most states, largely due to the minimal standard of education that its state constitution requires.

    Because Mississippi’s education clause requires no particular standard of education to be provided, the plaintiffs claim that some schoolchildren are learning in overcrowded classes   taught by inexperienced teachers and that those children have access to fewer educational resources and opportunities than students in other school districts. Most of the inequalities are being shouldered by majority-Black school districts, which may be affecting their students’ academic achievement.

  • February 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy, National Center for Transgender Equality

    Gavin Grimm, a high school senior in Virginia, had to sit through two public school board meetings during his sophomore year while his neighbors openly discussed his body parts and restroom use while pointedly referring to him as a “young lady,” calling him a “freak,” or comparing him to someone who thinks he is a dog. Gavin is a transgender boy. He had used the boys’ restroom at school for weeks with the full support of his fellow students before those school board meetings, where the school district ultimately decided to bar him from the boys’ restroom. For the over two years since then, Gavin has had to make a “walk of shame” to the nurse’s office each time he needs to use the restroom, a daily reminder that his school thinks he isn’t worthy of being treated like his peers.

    There are hundreds of thousands of transgender students like Gavin in schools all across the country. K–12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, began developing policies over a decade ago to answer everyday questions about supporting transgender students. Today, over 40 percent of U.S. K­­–12 students attend schools with local policies or statewide laws or guidelines that clearly support transgender students’ rights to learn in a safe environment and be treated according to their gender identity, including when it comes to using facilities. 

    Enter Title IX. Starting in 1999, a growing number of federal courts began to rule that federal sex discrimination laws applied to discrimination against transgender people. The rulings relied on two major Supreme Court precedents: Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), which held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), which stated that Title VII applies to any gender-based discrimination, not just specific scenarios Congress imagined in 1964. Eventually, five federal appeals courts and over a dozen district courts agreed that Title VII, Title IX, and other sex discrimination laws applied to anti-transgender bias, while only a handful disagreed.

  • January 19, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Lauren A. Khouri, Associate Attorney at Correia & Puth, PLLC

    This week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. The agency is tasked with promoting student achievement, fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. This means interpreting and enforcing our students’ civil rights laws.

    Prior to the hearing, there was little public record about DeVos’ record on important issues. DeVos has never been an educator, led a school, school district or state agency. She has not been a public school parent or a public school student. Her lack of experience has led numerous education and civil rights groups to denounce her nomination and speculate on how she would lead the Department based on past financial contributions. For example, DeVos’ foundation has donated to organizations that oppose Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault, groups that oppose discrimination against LGBTQ students in schools and efforts to restrict access to birth control and abortion, as well as shame young or unwed mothers. All of these donations called into question whether DeVos would protect Title IX rights for survivors, LGBTQ students and students who are pregnant, parenting or have had an abortion.

    At the HELP hearing, DeVos demonstrated little knowledge about the key issues facing the department she’s been tapped to lead, and she refused to commit to enforcing key civil rights laws and protecting public education. Where DeVos had the opportunity to make her commitment to students’ rights clear, saying nothing actually says a lot.