Family Moves and the Future of Public Education

95 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2022 Last revised: 3 Mar 2023

See all articles by Elizabeth Chu

Elizabeth Chu

Center for Public Research and Leadership

James S. Liebman

Columbia University - Law School

Madeline Sims

Center for Public Research and Leadership

Tim (Xiaoming) Wang

Independent

Date Written: Feburary 27, 2023

Abstract

State laws compel school-aged children to attend school while fully funding only public schools. Especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, this arrangement is under attack—from some for unconstitutionally coercing families to expose their children to non-neutral values to which they object and from others for ignoring the developmental needs of students, particularly students of color and in poverty whom public schools have long underserved. This Article argues that fully subsidized public education is constitutional as long as public schools fulfill their mission to model and commit people to liberal democratic values of tolerance and respect for all persons as equal choosers. To be sure, those values are not neutral. But as Brown v. Board famously concluded, their promotion in public schools is perhaps the nation’s and states’ single most compelling interest, because it is essential to the ability of people with diverse beliefs to live together harmoniously while preserving their vast freedoms in other respects. To keep public education from qualifying those freedoms any more than necessary, states give families a right to opt for private education, but at their own expense. This arrangement serves the compelling interest in public education, however, only if public schools—bolstered by compulsory education laws and their uniquely full public subsidization—attract enough families. For well over a century, public schools have attracted around 90% of all school children. Today, however, family moves away from public education are eroding its ability to attract children due principally to public education’s conflation of “public” with bureaucratically “uniform” education—precluding pedagogically, democratically, and equitably essential differentiation among students. The Article proposes ways public schools can better model liberal democratic values by engaging all families in the cooperative and differentiated direction of their children’s learning

Keywords: Democracy, Public Institutions, Pandemic, Families, Governance, Regulation, Public Education, Children, Right to Education

Suggested Citation

Chu, Elizabeth and Liebman, James Steven and Sims, Madeline and Wang, Tim (Xiaoming), Family Moves and the Future of Public Education (Feburary 27, 2023). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 53, 2023, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4187069 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4187069

Elizabeth Chu

Center for Public Research and Leadership ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
212-854-3077 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://cprl.law.columbia.edu/directory/elizabeth-m-chu

James Steven Liebman (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
212-854-3423 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

Madeline Sims

Center for Public Research and Leadership ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Tim (Xiaoming) Wang

Independent ( email )

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