UVA Law Launches Education Rights Institute

UVA Law…

new institute at the University of Virginia School of Law aims to ensure that all students receive a high-quality K-12 education and help schools understand how to address obstacles facing disadvantaged students.

The new Education Rights Institute, supported by an anonymous $4.9 million gift, is led by UVA professor Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, who will serve as the inaugural director.

She formerly served as an attorney with the General Counsel’s Office of the U.S. Department of Education and represented school districts at Hogan Lovells, a law practice specializing in education research and strategies.

“We will be amplifying data and scholarship about opportunity gaps so that more educators, policymakers and the public understand the importance of addressing these disparities and helping schools and districts identify ways to close these gaps and deliver a high-quality education,” Robinson said. “We also will be developing scholarship regarding a federal right to education, which would greatly improve educational opportunities and outcomes for students.”

Robinson garnered the gift after pitching the idea for the institute to a philanthropist interested in her scholarship.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to use this money to make an impact in the scholarly community and the lives of students,” Robinson said.

School of Law Dean Risa Goluboff added, “This is a significant gift that is both a testament to Kimberly’s work and an amplifier of it. I look forward to seeing how it will improve equity in K-12 education across the nation.”

The institute will mark its launch on Oct. 16 with a half-day event featuring keynote speaker Na’ilah Suad Nasir, president of the Spencer Foundation, a nonprofit that invests in education research. UVA President Jim Ryan, also an expert in education law, and Goluboff, a civil rights expert, will give opening remarks. After the keynote talk, two panels – on educational opportunity gaps and potential reforms to close them – will feature leading experts, scholars and advocates in the field, including U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 4th District.

The institute, Robinson said, has a three-part mission:

  • Elevating scholarship about establishing a federal right to a high-quality education that prepares students to be college- and career-ready and engaged citizens.
  • Helping school districts understand their obligations to protect students’ civil rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, and helping districts identify available federal resources available to fulfill their obligations.
  • Amplifying data and research about educational opportunity gaps and how federal resources could address those shortcomings.

Students suffer the impact of poorly funded schools in multiple ways, Robinson said. U.S. schools in low-income communities frequently face challenges such as having less-experienced teachers and more infrastructure problems, including inadequate heating and cooling systems or pest infestations. More broadly, states typically base school funding on property taxes collected in the school district, so wealthier districts often receive more funding than low-income communities that may need extra help to overcome greater challenges.

“The data show that more than half of the states give the same or less funding to school districts with high concentrations of poverty, which is the exact opposite of what the research says to do  give more resources to school districts with greater poverty,” Robinson said. “We’re the only wealthy nation that provides less funding to disadvantaged students. We are undermining our education system and the democracy, economy and society that relies on it to thrive.”

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