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Legal Developments

Legal Developments includes key policy decisions, court cases and legal memos impacting education and civil rights.

During CRP's initial years, much of our work focused on forging stronger links between national civil rights organizations, lawyers, academics and policymakers. More recently, we turned our attention to strengthening state and community racial justice efforts, and conducting state or locally-focused research towards that end.

It is at these levels where many key policy decisions are made regarding education, criminal and juvenile justice, electoral reform, and other matters. Officials at the district level often set policies regarding school discipline ("zero tolerance"), special education, and voluntary desegregation efforts, not the federal government in Washington, DC. State legislators, state school boards and state attorneys generally influence such policies as testing and accountability for failing schools, sentencing and parole practices, and juvenile justice procedures.


Federal programs such as the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act have widespread impacts at the state and local level, but in education and most other arenas there is a pattern of "cooperative federalism" which leaves countless important policy choices in the hands of state and local decisionmakers. With vacillating and often weak federal civil rights enforcement, there are significant burdens on state and local government to enforce guarantees of equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination. The challenges are especially daunting for state and local advocates, who often have severely limited resources.

Thus, it is increasingly important for these racial justice workers to make effective use of research and policy analysis, and to reach out more aggressively to the media, legislators, school leaders and other key players. Our initial work at this level has clearly illuminated the myriad of challenges we face. In many cases, "client" organizations or policymakers lack even basic familiarity with settled research findings, applicable legal doctrines, or fundamental policy debates. (They also often lack basic elements of organizational capacity.) Researchers and attorneys located within a region often feel unconnected with colleagues elsewhere in the country, but also are no better connected to each other and to local advocates than what we observe at the national level.

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