Like any sector, the field of education has specific legal issues. Providing services to special needs students, free speech rights, approving homeschool curricula, locker searches, cross-town busing, and affirmative action policies are just a few of the reasons why Education Law is recognized as a specific legal subfield. Currently, the legal cases and policies that shape the operation and expectations of the U.S. education system evolve daily and require knowledgeable professionals.
Since educational rights are rooted in the Constitution and state law, a degree in Education Law generally coincides with a law degree or Juris Doctorate (JD). However, Masters programs focusing on Education Law are being paired with JDs or as standalone programs. No undergraduate major exists in education law, however there are undergraduate majors that facilitate further study of education law.
History of Education Law
Since our nation's inception, the government has played a role in defining the importance and nature of education. The first federal act relating to education was the Ordinance of 1785. Passed by the Continental Congress, the Ordinance set aside portions of each congressional district for schools. In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance that became the first federal policy statement acknowledging the benefit of knowledge and education for the general welfare.
Today, the federal basis for intrusion into matters of education is based on the Constitution. The General Welfare Clause which sates "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" (art. I, Â§ 8).
However, the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution establishes the legal theory that the states are charged with providing education to its residents. It states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Degrees in Educational Law will focus on how to apply the law to an ever changing educational landscape.
A Bachelor's degree in Legal Studies is generally the only undergraduate major that may touch on or allow for a coursework in Education Law. Often called a Bachelor's in Professional Studies (BPS), this course of study is designed for pre-law, paralegal studies, and other students seeking a career concentrated in the law. A quality undergraduate program should be accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). However, this accreditation does not allow the graduate to sit for a bar examination without the requisite formal law degree.
While Constitutional law classes will touch upon education law, there is often no concentration in Education Law at the undergraduate level. Nonetheless, a strong understanding of legal principles will benefit a Masters or law degree program in Education Law.
After years in the industry, education professionals may recognize a need for greater understanding of Education Law. In response, Nova Southeastern University developed and ABA approved Masters program in Education Law for non-lawyers. These Masters of Science in Education Law programs do not require passage of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), however, they may require taking the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).
Often ABA accredited, Masters programs generally involve two years of coursework. While a Masters in Education Law does not prepare one for the practice of law, it does provide in depth analysis of the legal framework that shapes education issues. As a result, these classes are generally not aimed at law students.
Other Masters of Education, Masters of Public Administration or PhD in Higher Education can also serve to provide a great context for education law and policy. The Education Law Consortium at the University of Georgia housed at the Institute of Higher Education facilitates such diverse education programs that focus on education law without giving an express degree in this field.
The JD is a professional doctorate needed to practice law. While concentrations are possible, most law schools offer a general course of studies and extensive listing of electives. More commonly, a student can get a dual degree program that matches the JD with an education focused Masters program. For example, Loyola University of Chicago offers a JD and a Master's in Comparative Law and Education. This program focuses on the legal right to education and related issues.
Bachelors in Legal Studies A variety of colleges offer Bachelors in degrees that include coursework in education/constitutional law. Hamline College, St. Paul, Minnesota offers such a program. Many other online universities also provide degrees in Legal Studies. Remember, these degrees are geared towards the future paralegal or lawyer. A specific undergraduate degree in Education Law is not available.
Masters in Education Law Nova Southeastern University offers the only Masters of Science in Education Law for non-law students. This two year program is designed for the working educational professional that desires a deeper understanding of the legal framework that governs the industry.
Law Degree, Education Law concentration Many law schools offer dual degrees such as a Masters of Education. Courses in education law combined with these additional majors gives a strong foundation to the future education attorney.