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Scholar Explores 'Legal Translation'

November 09, 2010

Reformers who aimed to improve educational opportunities for children in poor communities through the courts have achieved mixed results, scholar Michael Paris said during a talk at the law school on Nov. 8.

An assistant professor in the College of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, Paris discussed his book, “Framing Educational Opportunity: Law and the Politics of School Finance Reform,” published this year by Stanford University Press.

The book examines the efforts of education reformers in New Jersey and Kentucky, who engaged in "legal translation," which Paris described as “the conceptual and rhetorical processes through which reformers translate political goals into a plausible legal framework.”

In New Jersey, Kentucky and elsewhere, education reformers based their legal battles on provisions of state constitutions, Paris said.

While reformers in New Jersey prevailed in a 40-year legal battle to equalize spending in rich and poor school systems, they ignored the administrative incapacity of impoverished districts to effectively use resources they received. In contrast, Paris said, reformers in Kentucky turned to the courts to address nepotism and a lack of accountability in poor school systems as they fought for additional resources.