In public education, there are layers of rules and authority that you have to know and follow. It’s hard to untangle this legal web. You hear about federal laws and regulations and state departments of education, and you certainly are aware of local school boards, superintendents, and principals. How do all of these players share control of public education and how do all of those rules and regulations come together to impact your classroom? This cheat sheet will help you figure out which entity governs what.

Federal government

The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and although it does not mention education, several key amendments have a significant impact on the operation of public schools and the conduct of teachers and students. These protect individuals and restrict behavior of schools and school employees.

    The First Amendment addresses several basic personal freedoms: freedom of religion, expression, speech, press, and assembly. The Fourth Amendment protects privacy and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fifth Amendment requires fairness, protects against self-incrimination, and prevents the government from taking property without proper compensation and procedures. The Fourteenth Amendment requires states and state agencies to provide due process and equal protection.

The Constitution doesn’t give the U.S. Congress the authority over education. As such, Congress can’t directly regulate public schools. But there are many federal laws which impact education. Congress gets this control by offering money to states. By accepting federal funds, states and local school boards agree to comply with specific programmatic conditions and certain civil rights laws. Some well-known examples of this include Race to the Top, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, No Child Left Behind, and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

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