Students attending under-resourced public schools are held to the same statewide standards as their peers in wealthier districts, but are attempting to learn under conditions of neglect. In most states, students lacking qualified teachers, safe classrooms, textbooks, and other learning resources have no power to change their learning environments. Due to the lack of a federal constitutional right to education, efforts to improve school conditions by invoking general state protections have had mixed success in enhancing the quality of education in the United States. In California in 2004, however, the Williams v. State student class action lawsuit set some of the first concrete requirements for public school conditions and created a comprehensive monitoring mechanism to involve students and parents in school oversight. The Williams complaint model should be modernized and adopted by other states to restore agency to students, empower teachers to engage in school reform, and ensure efficient use of state resources in addressing individual school site problems. Furthermore, establishing legal requirements for students’ “minimal education needs” can delineate clear instances for court intervention in local policy, and set the groundwork for more ambitious education equity lawsuits in the future.
Abigail W. Mahoney, The Williams Complaint and the Role of the Learning Environment in Education Adequacy: "You Count; Do Well", 62 B.C. L. Rev. 659 (2021), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol62/iss2/7