In the federal Constitution of the United States of America, the national government does not hold any authority to control the system of public education. However, the Tenth Amendment reserves this power to the states, the demonstration of which is the establishment of local school districts under the administration of the boards of education. The idea of a free education, made accessible through public schools, is deemed to be the pillar of the development of a citizenry capable of participating efficiently in self-government (Reutter 1981). This has remarkably influenced the states to recognize the legal purpose of the establishment of public schools.
The prerogative of the government over public education, however wide in its scope, is constrained in prescribing only to the students what academic subjects to learn. It is in this provision that the power of the states clashes with the right of the parents to choose an institution where their children are to be educated, a latitude of choice given to them by the federal Constitution.
The function of the government has never been as restricted legally from any field as it has been from public education. Almost all over the world, public education is left for the people to control like no other aspects of governance. This is a fact that has also shaped the public’s engagement in education.
The board of education in more than 90% of school districts is thrust into power by the voting public (Reutter 1981). But other than electing board members, citizens as individuals and as a whole can extend their clout beyond this prerogative. Most of the time, the public has control over the determination of expenditures inasmuch as public schools are public in the sense of being funded by public finances. Citizens also have a direct voice in the policies of public schools. As common law goes, the parents’ rights go past controlling the education of their children to the extent that their exercise does not ruin the common good (Hatcher).
The mode of organization and administration of public schools vary in detail over the fifty states, but not so in its structure. Local boards of education have the responsibility to operate the schools of the state, except in Hawaii. This responsibility is set up by the state boards of education, which have widened their latitude of action both under certain mandates of the legislatures and on their own initiatives (Butcher).
A state board of education serves generally as the policy-making body for the public schools within a state, the rules and regulations of which go in congruence with the provisions of the constitution and statutes of the state. The selection of the members to the state board of education differs in every state. In most states, the members are nominated by the governor and are subject to the approval of the legislature. The nominees’ approval relies qualitatively on residence within a certain district and on a maximum age requirement .
There has been a widely accepted trend of electing board members since the World War II ended. They are elected on a district basis in some states, on a statewide basis in others. In New York, the state legislature selects the members of the state board. Different is the selection method in Washington where the local school boards cast their votes to select state board members. Legislative delegations in South Carolina select them to the post (Purta-Torney, 2002).
Each of the states has a chief administrative officer for the state school system. Before, two-thirds of the chief state school officers were selected through popular voting and eight were selected by state boards of education. Today, state boards select approximately half of the chief state school officers. The other half are popularly elected and the rest, a few of them, are appointed by governors.
Among the states, varying responsibilities of the chief state school officer can be observed, some are found in the constitution and some others in the statute. He is responsible for executing the plans and policies of the state board of education and the statutes of the states pertaining to public school education. The chief state school officer is commonly recognized as the head of state department of education and the educational spokesman for, and coordinator of, the public school enterprise in every state.
The chief state school officer also discharges certain judicial functions regarding public educational activities. Moreover, he may give his disposition on certain types of controversies and disputes as mandated in some states before the cases are turned over to courts of law for consideration. The aggrieved party may pass the case to a court of highly competent jurisdiction to reconsider the previous decision as a matter of course.
Several instances showed that some chief state school officers have the capacity to exercise arbitrary decisions, decisions beyond their scope, or decisions that go against the law, which sends local parties objecting to the exercise of their power. Thus, it is just and fair and constitutional to subject his decisions to judicial review of higher courts for substantial allegations on lapse of judgment.
The role of the court is to review the early decision made by the chief state school officer to verify if evidences were sufficient and substantial to support his conclusion.
On the matter of the determination of which sect of the community is to gain education, there is the state compulsory education law as one of the keystones of education in the United States. It establishes both the right to attend public school and the duty to do so to obtain equivalent education elsewhere.
Strict attendances at public schools cannot be imposed by the compulsory education law even if it is found in the statutes. According to the Supreme Court of the United States, it is the constitutional right of the parents to send their children to privately operated schools instead of the public schools if they so desired. It invalidated the Oregon law that required children between certain ages to attend public schools.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that the states have the power to set reasonable standards covering private schools. Some states are strict as regards the quality of instruction in private schools, while others have no operational check on it. The degree of regulation varies from state to state.
The compulsory education law also provides that equivalent education at home can be granted to the children. But the statutes in different states remain vague as to whether instruction at home satisfies the educational requirement of the law. The perspectives of the courts are also discordant with one another. The courts, thereby, considered several elements to determine whether home instruction is equivalent to that obtainable in schools. These elements include: level of education of the person teaching the child at home; qualifications in regard to teaching methods of the person doing the instructing; content of the instruction at home; teaching materials used; time spent by the child on education; educational proficiency of the child relative to his age and intelligence; and social development of the child (Reutter 1981).
Any failure of the parents or guardians to comply with such a statute is considered to be a violation of the law punishable under the penal code.
However, there are exceptions to these rules. Ill-health is one which lasts for the duration of the sickness. Another is mental retardation. Still another is physical deficiency. With these incapabilities, the child may not be compelled to attend instruction unless corresponding actions are made for him.
Irregular attendance can also be a violation to the compulsory education law under some circumstances. The contention that religious tenets are the reason the child cannot attend school regularly is not an excuse in itself. The parents also cannot keep their child home just because of disagreement with a school board regulation or because they have objections to the child’s assignment.
The compulsory education laws work hand-in-hand with the child labor law in most states, regulating the employment of minors. Usually, local school officials have the authority to issue work permits to children within a certain age bracket. This is complemented in no small way by the compulsory education law in the best interests of the children and the state. Many laws stipulate that children of compulsory education age who are permitted to leave school to work must attend continuation classes which local school authorities must establish if there are a certain number of affected children in the school district.
It is also within the power of the state to be certain that children attending public school are in reasonably good health condition so as not to infect others and so as to be able to profit from instruction. To this end, constitutionality of vaccination requirements is today well settled. The Supreme Court ruled in 1922 to uphold the power of the state to enact such a requirement. But there is an uncertainty as to whether a local board of education can force a child to be vaccinated if there is no state statute on the matter (Henry, 1990).
Even religion is not a justification for noncompliance with vaccination requirements. This will test somehow the court’s position in upholding the general welfare being threatened by the exercise of a religious belief. In such circumstances, general welfare must prevail.
Questions arise as to the legality of “cut-off” dates to determine eligibility when statutes require that children in certain age bracket must submit to instruction. For instance, in New York children from seven to sixteen must attend public school or get equivalent instruction elsewhere. Those over five and under twenty-one are entitled to attend the public schools of the district where they reside. A local school board may adopt reasonable rules regarding the date by which the age must be reached for admission to implement this kind of statute (JTORNEWS).
Moreover, the date can be changed at the discretion of the board unless the matter is controlled specifically by statute. Generally, local boards may admit children below the minimum age required by law, although they have no authority to raise it. The use of examination to measure the eligibility of a child under a specified age is not legally clear.
Whether a child has a right to attend school in a given district depends upon where he has legal residence. It is generally held that a child has the right to attend the schools of the district in which he is actually living. The only major exception is when he is living in that district solely for the purpose of attending the school there. A child who for reasons other than schooling is living in a boarding house generally is entitled to attend free schools of the district containing the establishment. The same is true for a child living with a relative, even though the relative is not his legal guardian.
Where the father pays taxes is usually of no consequence. That goes to say that if the father pays taxes in one district but the child is living in a second district, the fact that the father is not paying taxes to the district in which the child is going to school does not mean that the child is to be excluded from free public education there. On the other hand, normally a child is entitled to free schooling only in the district where he lives, not in another district where his father may happen to pay taxes. A child living in one district with his father who owns a business and pays taxes thereon in another district has been held ineligible to attend the school of the latter district.
If a parent desires his children not to attend the public school of the district of residence, he can send the child to a private school, or, in some states, provide instruction at home. Also he may be able to make arrangements to send him to a public school in an adjoining district. This would normally require paying the tuition rate set by the district receiving the child. There is, however, no compulsion on a district to accept tuition pupils in the absence of a statute (Strand, 2003).
A few states have laws requiring a school district to admit on a tuition basis pupils not living in the district provided the schools in the district are not thereby overcrowded. Several courts have ruled that, regardless of whether tuition is paid, express statutory authority is needed before a district is permitted to accept non-resident students.
Reutter, Edmund E., Jr. (1981). Schools and the Law. USA: Oceana Publications, Inc.
Butcher, Jude, et al. Teacher Education, Community Service Learning and Student Efficacy for
Community Engagement. InformaWorld. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a713650770
JSTORNEWS. The Journal of Higher Education. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from
Hatcher, Julie A. et al. Campus–Community Partnerships: The Terms of Engagement.
InterScience. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118911236/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
Torney-Purta, Judith (2002). The School’s Role in Developing Civic Engagement: A Study of
Adolescents in Twenty-Eight Countries. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a783719585
Henry, W. A., III (1990, April 9). Making The Grade in Today’s Schools. Time, 135, 28-31.
Strand, Kerry, et al (2003). Community-based research and higher education: principles and
practices. Retrieved August 6, 2010 from http://www.google.com/books?hl=tl;lr=;id=LeDxoTVTSmYC;oi=fnd;pg=PR13;dq=the+role+of+community+engagement+in+education;ots=mzvK_vR2PL;sig=gx7DXjeFpxg6-aFjVwwdjsgwcP0#v=onepage;q=the%20role%20of%20community%20engagement%20in%20education;f=false