Is Education a Constitutional Right?


By Laurence M. Vance - Posted at Tenth Amendment Center:

An article in the September issue of The New Yorker makes the case that education is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

It’s not.

Public schools in Detroit are failing to educate students. Just like they are failing to do so in many large cities throughout the country. A case in the federal court system, Gary B. v. Snyder, filed by Public Counsel and Sidley Austin LLP on behalf of a class of Detroit students, argues that students in Detroit public schools who failed to learn how to read were denied their due process and equal protection rights under the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. The case was dismissed by a federal district court in Michigan in June, but has been appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The plaintiffs, as well as the writer of the piece in The New Yorker (Jill Lepore) cite the Supreme Court case of Plyler v. Doe (1982). In his book The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind (Pantheon, 2018), Justin Driver, a law professor at the University of Chicago, maintains that this case “rests among the most egalitarian, momentous, and efficacious constitutional opinions that the Supreme Court has issued throughout its entire history.”

The case came about after Texas education laws were changed in 1975 to allow the state to withhold funding from local school districts to educate the children of illegal aliens. The Court, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that the revised law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The law “severely disadvantaged the children of illegal aliens” by “denying them the right to an education.”

But of course, the law didn’t deny the children of illegals the right to an education; it denied them the right to an education at taxpayers’ expense. Their parents could have educated them at home, hired a tutor, or sent them to a private school. The fact that the parents didn’t have the ability to educate their children at home and couldn’t afford to hire a tutor or send their children to a private school is immaterial.

But regardless of what the Supreme Court said, education is not a constitutional right.

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