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"The American Civil Liberties Union/Alabama"

May/June 1995 issue of Poverty & Race

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama have been working to ensure that the legal victories that were won in their landmark school reform litigation of Harper v. James (formerly Harper v. Hunt) result in improved schools and school systems for Alabama's children (Appendix to the Opinion of the Justices, 624 So.2d 107 (Ala.1993)). The ACLU represents a class of school children alleging that
Alabama's system of public education is both inadequate and inequitable. PRRAC funding supported two distinct but interrelated purposes: (1) a study of the disparate racial impact of Alabama's school funding system; and (2) the development of new school finance models that would provide for the equitable distribution of education services to poor black students regardless of their county of residence. The legal victories have been substantial, but the political battle to implement the reforms has proven difficult.

The state trial court issued both an order establishing the state's liability and an order describing the appropriate remedy. After the court issued the remedy order in October 1993, plaintiff's worked extensively with defendants and various advocacy groups to translate the remedy order into actual reforms.

However, the political climate in the state changed dramatically with the November elections. Alabama elected a new governor, Fob James, Jr., who is hostile to the litigation and hostile to comprehensive school reform as described and mandated by the court's orders. The election also produced an entirely new State Board of Education. Seven of the nine members of the Board are new, and two members are openly hostile to the litigation and to reform. These developments have presented new challenges for the ACLU and the school reform movement in Alabama.

First, Governor James has mounted a litigation challenge to the authority of the trial court to define the parameters of a constitutional public education system and to order effective remedies for constitutional violations. The ACLU was successful in persuading, the Alabama Supreme Court to reject a belated attempt by the governor to undo the liability order. An appeal to the remedy order is still pending.

The ACLU has met with various Alabama groups committed to the remedy order's vision of school reform, in order to determine how best to implement the court's orders and how to go forward with school reform even if the governor's challenges to the remedy order are successful. The ACLU is also working toward further developing a coalition of organizers, activists and lawyers to defeat the antireform propaganda being put forth by the governor and groups like the Eagle Forum. It has become increasingly clear to those involved in the litigation that real reform can only happen with the support of the larger community. To that end, the ACLU is committed to community education and outreach that focuses on the court's orders and the litigation's vision of effective school reform.

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