Educational Policymaking Through the Civil Justice System

by Paul T. Hill, Doren L. Madey

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This report analyzes the use of the civil justice system to decide the allocation of public services, in particular the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The authors found there were three effects of using civil justice procedures to allocate educational services: (1) effects on the courts are slight; (2) effects on school systems are real but limited; and (3) effects on handicapped children are positive — but some, especially those whose parents are willing to threaten litigation, benefit far more than others. The most important finding of the study is that the introduction of civil justice procedures has had an enormous effect on local school policy, despite the low volume of litigation. The authors drew two conclusions regarding the use of the civil justice system to decide the allocation of public services: (1) thanks to the introduction of civil justice methods, PL-94-142 is applied with far more rigorous attention to the rights and duties of school personnel and beneficiaries than are other federal education programs; and (2) despite the optimistic conclusions, the findings do not necessarily warrant the extension of civil justice procedures to other areas of local educational policy.

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