Creating the Future Through Youth Voices

By Valentino Indelicato, DemocracyReady NY Youth Organizer for New York Civic Learning Week 2023

Channeling a voice loud enough for people to hear is challenging, especially for youth. Imagine trying to speak to hundreds of people, with no idea as to how any of them will respond, or trying to educate them on topics needed to improve the state of their community. These challenges seem difficult enough, but, for youth, the one common factor is the weak spotlight shone upon student voices. In March this year, I met that challenge, hosting a panel in front of a webinar audience I couldn’t see, using my voice, and interviewing students like myself about speaking out in their schools and communities.

To have student voices represented is to give students a say on locking bathroom doors, the level of security within the school, or the structure of budgeting for different departments. All of these major school-based topics primarily affect students, but rarely do we see a single student voice being able to advocate for change. Today, students around the globe, including in New York State, struggle to have their voices heard, and for that reason changes need to happen.

My Story

From my experience as a teenager in upstate New York, channeling my voice has been especially difficult, due to the struggle to grab attention from the mentors and administration around me. In Syracuse, New York, spending sixteen years of my life in one place, but jumping from school district to the next, I found it immensely difficult to embrace my voice in a community full of diverging opinions and experiences. After heading into Nottingham High School in 9th grade, I noticed a tremendous number of challenges surrounding the school’s environment, specifically on safety, communication, and relationships. Many of my peers commented on the level of uneasiness in my school due to the administration’s strict solutions to behavior control, with little or no input from the students. Hearing from students all over the school about their experience, I knew I wanted change to happen.

After dedicating a long time in my sophomore year to a thesis and project with peers about the behavior control at Nottingham, we presented it to board members within our school district. Discussing with administration for the first time, I found no immediate result in change around my school. Although this struggle to help students gain a voice failed, I wanted to grow my voice even larger and help others do the same, and that’s why I helped host a youth-led event through the DemocracyReady NY Coalition at the Center for Educational Equity, Teachers College, with peers from across New York in celebration of NY Civic Learning Week titled: Beyond the Vote: Youth Civic Participation from Classroom to Community.

The Importance of Youth

After helping coordinate this event, I interviewed two individuals on topics that deeply focus on involving youth in decision making. The first was Justin Hubbard, a social studies teacher at Salamanca High School, who spoke about how and why schools should center students in many of their decisions. He stated that “If we empower our students more, that will make it so that the community will be more involved with the school and the school will therefore be involved with the community, so that there will be that constant loop.” If schools strengthened students’ voices, they could help change so much more in their community. What’s so important about the voice of the youth is the ability for us to express a modern way of constructing a new input into decisions and create a respected environment for all in a community, and this is what Mr. Hubbard has been trying to accomplish.

On the same panel, another speaker took the spotlight to express her opinion as a young person. Eugenia Bamfo, a high school senior, spoke about her time as a Youth Action Member at Citizens’ Committee for Children of NY. Conversing with her, we focused on ways to increase the level of civic education taught in schools to help amplify students’ decision making. One of her leading points in the conversation was, “if school is this place where you can teach students and influence them in wonderful ways, why aren’t we teaching students how to become advocates, and if this is the future, why aren’t we investing more time to that future to make change?” What many adults, especially in schools, have a hard time understanding is the level of initiative that youth are developing now and will have in the future.

Youth will share a new perspective on civic issues that will lead to change in many ways. They will become policymakers, city council members, advocates, etc. Civic education in schools should give students opportunities to learn about policy at the school level, but also at the a state level, so that it gives students the ability to make a greater impact and make legislative change in the future. A perfect example of student empowerment is shown through Eugenia, being a leader for many in New York, and helping push the Youth Agenda and elevate students’ voices.

It’s hard to understand the impact this new generation of youth will have, but it’s clear that kids around the world have the ability to understand the world we have to face in the future. I experienced so much through the DemocracyReady NY’s New York Civic Learning Week, talking with people I’d never thought I’d encounter, and having that voice to show others how to make that change in our community. At Nottingham High School, I am a part of a club called Superintendent’s Cabinet, which gives students the chance to voice their opinion on school-related issues. This club lets students create a bigger platform for themselves to help others around them. This is what I want for every youth in schools, as well as throughout the world. The ability to use your voice is important in the world we live in today, and the future is in our hands.

Pennsylvania Court Issues Blockbuster Ruling: the State’s Education Funding Formula Unconstitutional

In a stunning 786-page opinion issued on February 7, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer held that Pennsylvania’s education funding system violates both the education clause and the equal protection clause of the state constitution (William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.). She ruled that education is a fundamental right under the Pennsylvania Constitution and that the current funding formula does not adequately consider student needs, which are generally higher in low-income districts. Specifically, she held that students in low-wealth districts are being deprived of equal protection of the law and that “the Education Clause requires that every student be provided with a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective and contemporary system of public education.”

Judge Jubelirer’s carefully crafted decision, written almost a year after the lengthy trial had concluded, meticulously examined all of the testimony and evidence in the case, the legal arguments made by the parties and the amici, and decisions of courts in other states. For example, she provided 153 pages of careful analysis of each of the five expert witnesses presented by the plaintiffs and the five experts presented by the defendants. The judge also considered in depth the resource inputs such as teacher experience, adequacy of textbooks and technology, and facilities in each of the six petitioner school districts as well as outcomes in terms of test scores and graduation rates of students in these districts compared with all students statewide. She concluded that:

The evidence demonstrates that low-wealth districts like Petitioner Districts which struggle to raise enough revenue through local taxes to cover the greater needs of their students, lack the inputs that are essential elements of a thorough and efficient system of education —- adequate courses, curricula and other programs that prepare students to be college and career ready; sufficient, qualified, and effective staff; safe and adequate facilities; modern instrumentalities of learning. The COVID pandemic highlighted these deficiencies….

The Court issued a declaratory judgment outlining the parameters of the essential elements of a constitutionally valid school funding system, but the judge did not order any specific remedies for correcting the extensive constitutional violations that she found. That task will now be the responsibility of the governor and the legislature.

At this point, the defendants, who include the governor, the legislative leaders, and the department of education, have not indicated whether or not they intend to appeal. It is notable, however, that Governor Josh Shapiro, in his previous position as attorney general, had submitted a brief to the court supporting the petitioners’ position.

Center for Educational Equity Files Amicus Brief Supporting New Regulations on Substantial Equivalency in New York’s Nonpublic Schools

The Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, filed an amicus brief supporting the respondents in the PEARLS (Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools), v. Young litigation. The lawsuit was filed against New York State Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr., and NYSED Commissioner Betty A. Rosa by a group of organizations representing the yeshiva education community, following the Regents’ September 2022 passage of regulations on substantially equivalent education in nonpublic schools.

It is well-established that students attending nonpublic schools must receive instruction substantially equivalent to that received in public schools. Our brief emphasizes the constitutional right that all students in New York State – including students attending nonpublic schools – have to a meaningful opportunity to an education that prepares them to function productively as civic participants.

DemocracyReady NY Coalition Announces New York Civic Learning Week

Events will feature youth moderators, education leaders, and civic leaders

DemocracyReady NY will host a series of virtual events to celebrate New York Civic Learning Week, which will take place this year from March 6 – 10, 2023. All events will be accessible to the public, and participants will include students, parents, school and district leaders, educators, and youth-serving organizations. 

DemocracyReady NY is a multigenerational, statewide, nonpartisan coalition of organizations and individuals committed to preparing all students for civic participation. The Coalition is convened by the Center for Educational Equity.

New York Civic Learning Week will help raise awareness of New York students’ right under the state constitution to an education that prepares them for engaged civic lives and to lend their voice to decision-making in their communities. The statewide celebration builds on the New York City Department of Education’s successful annual Civics Week, which has been going on since 2019.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) includes “civic readiness” as a graduation measure under its ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan. The Center’s Michael Rebell served as chairman of NYSED’s Civic Readiness Task Force. The task force’s recommendations led to the development of the Seal of Civic Readiness graduation pathway, which was rolled out in 2021. To date, about 350 schools throughout the state offer civic learning opportunities and civic experiences under the Seal. 

As a centerpiece of the New York Civic Learning Week convenings, DemocracyReady NY will host the inaugural virtual statewide Summit on Civic Readiness on Tuesday, March 7. On Wednesday, March 8, the Coalition will host a webinar on civic learning in elementary education. A virtual youth-led event will take place on Thursday, March 9. The week’s events will showcase the importance of civic education in sustaining and strengthening constitutional democracy in the United States.

In addition to these scheduled events, Civic Learning Week will be an opportunity for schools, districts, and the Coalition’s member organizations to plan community-based civic learning activities that week to celebrate. For regular updates leading up to Civic Learning Week, join our mailing list at

New York Needs a New State Aid Formula and a Commission To Ensure Future School-Funding Equity and Adequacy

With the election behind us, our representatives in Albany turn their attention to planning for the 2023 legislative session. Their first priority should be to agree on a path forward to replace New York’s badly out-of-date school funding formula and find a permanent, systematic way to ensure our students’ educational rights are honored year in and year out.

New York needs a more equitable state funding formula for its public schools that meets current needs. The current formula for distributing state aid to schools, the Foundation Aid Formula, has been in place since 2007, and finally will be fully paid out in 2024. It needs to be replaced with a new model that corrects its defects, accounts for new needs, and would guarantee adequate and equitable funding beyond 2024.

Some schools, including those in New York City, are facing likely state funding cuts due to declining enrollment, and the termination of federal post-pandemic aid in 2025. Historically, New York State contributes between 40 and 50 percent of state education funding. Many critical needs like support for students in temporary housing, post-pandemic learning loss, and technology gaps are not considered by the current formula. Major aspects of its methodology, like the mechanism for calculating the number of students living in poverty in each school district and regional cost of living indices, are totally out of date.

The state must begin planning immediately for a fair new funding system. The process must be insulated from undue political influence, and it must respond to the experience of education stakeholders, the people most affected by inequities and inadequacies.

We call for the immediate establishment of a permanent, independent commission set up and to monitor the implementation of the new funding formula. (Read our proposal here.) The commission would also recommend modifications as necessary to ensure that the formula stays current and at all times meets the state’s obligation under the state constitution to offer all students the opportunity to obtain a sound, basic education.

To propose a new formula for the 2024-25 fiscal year, the commission needs to be established early in 2023, and its recommendations prepared and presented to the governor and the legislature by December 2023.

Our proposal for a new funding agreement and a permanent commission to oversee it are the next logical steps in the decades-long struggle to require New York State to fairly fund public schools. In 2003, in the CFE litigation, the New York Court of Appeals held that the state was not in compliance with its own constitution, which requires that the state provide adequate, equitable funding to ensure that every child receives a “meaningful opportunity” to obtain a “sound, basic education.”

To implement the court’s order, in 2007, the governor and legislature adopted the Foundation Aid Formula. That formula was based on a cost study undertaken by the state education department in 2006. Plaintiffs and most parent, education, and advocacy groups agreed that the $7 billion in extra funding promised by the new formula was a reasonable estimate of the actual costs needed to meet student needs throughout the state. Although the promised increases were supposed to be phased in over a four-year period, because of the 2008 recession and political impediments in the years following, the promised increased funding levels still have not fully been reached, 16 years later.

Two years ago, the governor and the legislature committed to pay out the remaining increases promised by the current Foundation Aid Formula over a three-year period. The state is scheduled to make the final payment on that agreement in 2024. But even as that chapter closes, the original Foundation Aid Formula is outdated and no longer complies with the state’s constitution.

In the 16 years since the current formula was adopted, New York has seen many changes in demographics, school policies, and state education mandates, creating many new resource inequities and inadequacies. These must be remedied to ensure all schools are fairly and adequately funded and students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education is honored in 2024 and the years to come.

Our proposal calls for a 15-member commission whose members would be appointed by the governor, the legislative leaders, and the commissioner of education, as well as by representatives of the major education and professional organizations, business leaders, advocacy groups, and parents. The commission would calculate the current cost of providing all New York students the opportunity for a sound basic education based on expert analyses, studies of successful practices and stakeholder input and suggest a comprehensive, new funding formula that would provide adequate resources for all students throughout the state. It would also monitor and propose periodic modifications to the funding formula and provide guidance and stability for effective, cost-efficient educational programming and planning.

With a permanent commission in place, parents and students won’t have to resort to litigation to ensure students’ educational rights are fulfilled in years to come.

North Carolina Supreme Court Issues Blockbuster School-Funding Decision

On November 4th, in a stunning 227-page decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the state controller and other state officials to transfer approximately $800 million from state budget reserves to the state educational budgets to fund a comprehensive compliance plan in the long-pending Leandro litigation.The decision comes after the state legislature refused to appropriate the full amount required to implement the second and third years of the eight-year phase-in of the compliance plan.

The 1997 Leandro case affirmed NC students’ constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education and recognized the duty of the state government to provide adequate funding to guarantee that right to all students.

In its 4-2 decision on Friday, the state supreme court refused to permit further delay in fully vindicating the state students’ constitutional right. It remanded the case to the trial court to recalculate the exact amount of funds required for the transfer and ordered that the trial court to retain jurisdiction to ensure that the plan is fully implemented in the years to come.

The court stated the significance of the case in potent language:

A quarter-century ago, this Court recognized that the North Carolina Constitution vests in all children of this state the right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education and that it is the constitutional duty of the State to uphold that right. Leandro v. State, 346 N.C. 336, 345 (1997). … In 2004, we affirmed the trial court’s determination “that the State had failed in its constitutional duty to provide certain students with the opportunity to attain a sound basic education,” and that “the State must act to correct those deficiencies.”… At that still-early stage of the litigation, this Court deferred to the legislative and executive branches to craft and implement a remedy to this failure.

In the eighteen years since, despite some steps forward and back, the foundational basis for the ruling of Leandro … has remained unchanged: today, as in 2004, far too many North Carolina schoolchildren … are not afforded their constitutional right to the opportunity to a sound basic education. …

Now, this Court must determine whether [the state’s constitutional] duty is a binding obligation or an unenforceable suggestion. We hold the former: the State may not indefinitely violate the constitutional rights of North Carolina schoolchildren without consequence. Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land; it is not optional. In exercising its powers under the Appropriations Clause, the General Assembly must also comply with its duties under the Education Provisions.

Rejecting the legislature’s separation of powers objections, the court held:

[W]hen inaction by those exercising legislative authority threatens fiscally to undermine the integrity of the judiciary, a court may invoke its inherent power to do what is reasonably necessary for the orderly and efficient administration of justice.”… Although “Article V prohibits the judiciary from taking public monies without statutory authorization [,]” when the exercise of remedial power “necessarily includes safeguarding the constitutional rights of the parties [,] … the court has the inherent authority to direct local authorities to perform that duty. …

For our Constitution to retain its integrity and legitimacy, the fundamental rights enshrined therein must be “guarded and maintained.” When other branches indefinitely abdicate this constitutional obligation, the judiciary must fill the void.

This forceful order reminds us that, at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court seems bent on abolishing or reducing important constitutional guarantees, state courts can play a critical role in upholding and fully enforcing important constitutional rights.

Note: The Center for Educational Equity helped draft the brief, amicus curiae, of the “Professors and Long-Time Practitioners of Constitutional and Educational Law” that was submitted in support of the plaintiffs’ position on this appeal.

Plaintiffs in Cook v. McKee and State Reach Agreement on Improving Civic Education in Rhode Island

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, Cook v. McKee, and the State of Rhode Island have reached an agreement on improving civic education. The Cook plaintiffs, joined by Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, announced on June 10th that the Rhode Island Department of Education will establish a Civic Readiness Task Force and a state diploma seal project, in conjunction with the plaintiffs in Cook v. McKee, and take other actions to improve the quality of civic education in Rhode Island.

Cook v. McKee is a class action suit against the State of Rhode Island, in which a group of Rhode Island students alleged that the State had deprived them of their rights under the United States Constitution to an education that would properly prepare them to become capable civic participants. As a result of these agreements, plaintiffs will not file a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court that would seek to appeal the dismissal of their suit by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Commissioner Infante-Green said, “Civic education is vital for our students and for the maintenance of our American democracy. I thank these students for keeping their elders focused on the importance of civic education, especially in these times.”

Michael A. Rebell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, and a professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College, Columbia University, added, “The purpose of this lawsuit has been to spur positive action on improving civic education in Rhode Island. We are pleased that the Commissioner is taking these steps, and we hope that other states will be inspired by her example to prioritize civic education.”

The Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness will be awarded to graduating high school seniors who have achieved high degrees of civics proficiency and completed a capstone project involving both research and active community involvement. Rhode Island will also establish a civics award program school districts can use to recognize middle school students who have demonstrated outstanding progress in civic readiness.

According to the agreement, the Commissioner will appoint the Civic Readiness Task Force of up to 15 members by September 1. It will be staffed by the Department of Education and include students, educators, parents, community members, and advocacy organizations, as well as some of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and their attorneys.  

Mealaktey Sok, a plaintiff in the case who was in high school when the case began, said, “Youth are not only the leaders of the future, but also the leaders of today. Investing in youth and equitable access to education, is to also invest and optimize the possibilities of tomorrow. And this starts with students being at the decision-making table. I am excited to see the changes and conversations that will take place through the Task Force. I am honored to play a part in bringing this lawsuit and improving education in Rhode Island for generations to come.”

The Task Force will advise the Commissioner on issues such as:

  • The advisability of adding a half credit course in civics in grade 8 and one in high school that would focus on media literacy, so students can learn to effectively utilize the internet and social media;
  • Providing school districts with methods and resources to support students in how to have respectful conversations on controversial issues with individuals having different views from their own, to be shared with LEAs;
  • Providing districts with resources for instruction about voter registration;
  • Implementation of the Commissioner’s Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness for high school graduates and civics award program for middle school students;
  • Development of a specific definition of “civic readiness” – to include civic knowledge, civic skills (including media literacy skills), civic experiences, and civic mindsets – and the manner in which this definition should be officially prescribed by the Rhode Island Department of Education:
  • Implementation of the requirement in the 2021 Civic Literacy Act that every school district provide one student-led civics project for students during either middle or high school;
  • Development of recommended methods for school districts to assess the proficiency and progress of students in civic readiness.

The Task Force will be expected to submit an initial report and recommendations to the Commissioner by March 31, 2023.   

Learning from Research about Preparing Students for Civic Participation 

One of the most exciting events in the last few weeks was a dynamic webinar co-hosted by the Center for Educational Equity and CivXNow, entitled Civic Education: Essential for Sustaining American Democracy. Featuring four leading civic-education researchers and scholars—David Campbell, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Meira Levinson, and Jane C. Lo—and moderated by Rashid Duroseau of Democracy Prep Public Schools, the discussion highlighted the importance of civic education for promoting civic engagement in young people—as well as the challenges educators face in a highly polarized political climate to prepare and empower their students, especially their students of color.

Preparing all students for civic and political participation is the foundation of the right to education in New York and many other states, and we believe it is the most important motivation for the fight for educational equity today. The webinar was both a call to action for the essential work to be done in civic education, and a discussion of what the research reveals about the state of civic education and what kinds of interventions and strategies have proven effective.

Shawn Healy, senior director of state policy and advocacy at CivXNow, began the program by laying out alarming statistics about the state of civic knowledge and civic education today. As the numbers make clear, not only has a basic understanding of the American governmental system eroded, so too has public confidence in our democratic institutions, fueling increased political polarization. Alongside the decades-long reduction in emphasis on and funding for social studies and civics in schools, and the more-recent culture wars taking hold at school board meetings and in the classroom, the crisis of civic education and civic engagement constitutes an existential threat to our democracy.

Much of the panelists’ discussion centered on research-based ideas for addressing these challenges. David Campbell, the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, talked about the importance of school ethos and culture to civic participation, and particularly of exposing students to real politics and political discussions in the classroom. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the Newhouse Director of CIRCLE at Tufts University, emphasized the data that spoke to the effectiveness of increasing the turnout of young people to the polls through interpersonal encouragement to vote and nonpartisan instruction that highlights the importance of voting for sustaining democracy. Her research also spoke to the importance of teaching media literacy in schools.

Jane Lo, assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, highlighted the effectiveness of meaningful, relevant civic experiences for setting students up for political engagement, and their power for helping students of color see that the future of our governmental system depends on them. Building on these ideas, Meira Levinson, the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, emphasized the importance of engaging young people in local civic and political issues, which are less polarized than national ones, and giving students the opportunity to practice and become effective at civic skills the same way they practice other skills learned in school, such as reading and math.

All panelists and presenters spoke passionately about the powerful opportunity civic education poses to help us expand individual democratic capacity and strengthen our democracy. Good civic education in the 21st century means more than just increasing knowledge: it means building skills, participating in meaningful experiences, and anchoring belief in democratic norms for all our students.

At the Center for Educational Equity, we believe that every child in America has a right to an education that prepares them for civic life, and that our nation needs its youth to receive a good civic education if our democracy is to survive. We hope you will join us in this mission.

If you missed Civic Education: Essential for Sustaining American Democracy, we encourage you watch it here.

Plaintiffs Plan to Appeal Cook v. McKee Civic Education Decision to U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the attempt by 14 Rhode Island public-school students to ensure every student in Rhode Island and throughout the country learns the basic civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic values needed to maintain our democracy. The plaintiffs have now vowed to seek review of these constitutional issues by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Appeals Court summarized its position as follows:

We conclude by echoing the district court’s observations in dismissing this case, that the students have called attention to critical issues of declining civic engagement and inadequate preparation for participation in civic life at a time when many are concerned about the future of American democracy.… Nevertheless, the weight of precedent stands in the Students’ way here, and they have not stated any viable claim for relief.

In response, Michael Rebell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, professor of law and educational practice at Teachers College, Columbia University, and executive director of the Center for Educational Equity, said, “Like so many landmark civil rights cases before this, we have reached the pivotal moment where only the Supreme Court can clarify the meaning for our times of what it has previously written.”

“Both the District Court and Court of Appeals recognized the critical connection between civic education and the preservation of our republican form of government,” Rebell added. “However, the lower courts indicated that they lacked the authority to reconsider Supreme Court precedents that ‘stand in the students’ way.’ Only the Supreme Court can resolve the ambiguities in the case law regarding students’ rights to civic education. We look forward to making our case on behalf of all Rhode Island and U.S. public-school students before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“The First Circuit’s decision articulated an extremely low bar for students’ rights to civic education, indicating that bare-bones reading and writing skills are sufficient basic education for effective citizenship in 2022. That is simply unacceptable,” stated Jennifer Wood, co-counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice.

The plaintiffs plan to ask the Supreme Court to add the case to its 2022-2023 docket by filing a petition for certiorari within the next 90 days.

For more background and information on Cook v. McKee (also A.C. v. McKee and formerly Cook v. Raimondo) please visit

For the full text of the decision please visit

To support this upcoming Supreme Court petition and other educational equity efforts please consider donating to the Center for Educational Equity at

A.C. (Cook) v. McKee in Appellate Court

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston heard oral arguments in A.C. v. McKee. Our executive director, Michael A. Rebell, argued on behalf of 14 Rhode Island student plaintiffs that all students should be guaranteed a K-12 education that prepares them to carry out their civic responsibilities in a democracy.

The Center for Educational Equity and attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case have appreciated the outpouring of interest and support for the attempt to establish a right to education for civic preparation under the U.S. Constitution. The court will likely render a decision in the first half of 2022, and the next legal steps in our efforts to guarantee civic education will become clear at that time.

The case has also received a good deal of media attention. Hours before the hearing, The Boston Globe published a powerful op-ed by Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. Minow, former dean of the Harvard Law School, also submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. 

The case has also been covered by ABC, the Associated Press, and the Boston Globe.

Below is a written summary of Rebell’s argument for the plaintiffs. You can also link to the full audio recording of the proceedings.

Summary of Plaintiffs’ Argument

This case is about the perpetuation of the constitutional values upon which the viability of our democratic system of government depends. And this is not hyperbole. The District Court strongly stated that “American democracy is in peril” and in 55 pages of eloquent prose described the peril and the importance of civic education in combating it. But, in the end, Judge Smith held that all that the Constitution guarantees to students is a minimum education, that is, basic reading and writing skills. We argue instead that the Supreme Court has said that students are entitled to a meaningful “quantum of education” that will prepare them to exercise important constitutional rights like the right to vote, free speech, and full participation in the political process. Reading and writing is a sine qua non, but much more is required.

We are asking the court to rule that some amount, some quantum of civic education, is required for students to exercise these constitutional rights. For example, media literacy is an absolute requirement to exercise constitutional rights in the 21st century. If you cannot distinguish erroneous from accurate information you are not in a position to vote effectively. You also need to acquire a certain amount of civic knowledge, civic skills, civic experiences, and civic values. That’s the core legal issue in this case…are kids entitled to some meaningful civic education that is going to prepare them to fully exercise their constitutional rights. 

Exactly what quantity of these skills and values, and which of them is most important, is a factual question for the district court to determine on remand. I think students need media literacy; I think they need a number of other things. But those are the points about which we have to present evidence to the district court and we’re prepared to do that.

Frankly, there was a tension between the strong statements the Supreme Court made in Brown regarding the paramount importance of education and their later holding in Rodriguez that education is not a fundamental interest under the Constitution. By saying in Rodriguez that there should be future consideration of what quantum of education is necessary to exercise important constitutional rights, the Court was trying to reconcile Brown and Rodriguez by carving out a subset of education that should be considered a fundamental right. Yes, this would be a statement of a new right, but it would not involve the micromanaging of the curriculum in Rhode Island. The state has the discretion under such a declaration of a right to determine the details, but needs to make it a priority, to say that civic education in the 21st century, when American democracy is in peril, is really important, and not treat it as less important than other subject, as Rhode Island does now. As the Supreme Court stated in Plyler, the American people have always regarded education and the acquisition of knowledge as a matter of supreme importance.