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Education Law: An Overview

Education law is a broad topic that encompasses several legal subjects. Education exists as a government function, which is administered through the public school system by the Department of Education. The states, however, have primary responsibility for the maintenance and operation of public schools. 

Each state is required by its state constitution to provide a school system whereby children may receive an education. State legislatures exercise power over schools in any manner consistent with the state's constitution. Many state legislatures delegate power over the school system to a state board of education.

There is a strong concern with equality in education. Within states this leads to efforts to assure that each child no matter where they are situated receives an adequate education. The Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 provides that no state shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin.

Parents have a fundamental right to direct the education of their children, including the right to choose a private school. However, states have the power to regulate private schools. That power is limited because many private schools are religious institutions. The U.S. Constitution restricts public funding of private schools. See Establishment Clause. Consequently, there have been numerous Supreme Court opinions delineating the bounds of what is and is not considered public funding.

For children with disabilities special education is available. To qualify for special education a child's disability must adversely affect the child's educational performance. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq) establishes a process for evaluating a child's special needs and for providing an individualized education program. The Federal Act is binding on all states. In addition, most states have their own laws which parallel the Act. Under the Act, parents and families of special education children have specific rights such as the right to inspect the child's school records.

Lastly, homeschooling is an option for some families. Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, but it requires a large time commitment on the part of the family. In some states parents need to register their intent to homeschool with the department of education or the local district school board. In addition, many states require yearly proof of progress. States do not provide many services to homeschools, though some allow students to attend public school classes and to participate in public school activities.

[Last updated in October of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
  • 20 U.S.C.- Education
    • 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    • 20 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1721 - Equal Education Opportunities Act
    • Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act or 20 U.S.C. § 1232g
  • CRS Annotated Constitution
Federal Agency Regulations
  • Code of Federal Regulations: 34 C.F.R.- education
    • 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.1 et seq. - Special Education
    • 34 C.F.R. §§ 99.1 et seq. - Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act
Federal Judicial Decisions
  • U.S. Supreme Court:
    • Recent Decisions on Education 
U.S. Constitution

State Material

State Statutes
State Departments of Education
  • Department of Education (Listing by State)
State Judicial Decisions
  • N.Y. Court of Appeals:
    • Recent Decisions on Education
  • Appellate Decisions from Other States

Key Internet Sources

  • U.S. Department of Education
    • Office of Elementary & Secondary Education
    • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
    • Office of Migrant Education
    • Office of Post-Secondary Education
    • Office of Non-Public Education (private schools)
    • Office of Vocational & Adult Education
    • Office of Civil Rights
    • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Homeschooling

Online Journals

  • Journal of Law and Education​