Is Education a Fundamental Right?

Article 26 – (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” The declaration that elementary education should be free for undocumented youth in Texas was challenged in the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. Following the decision of Supreme Court case San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973), the court’s ruling in Plyler v. Doe enhanced the discussion of whether or not the right to education was a fundamental right or just an ordinary right.

A fundamental right is described as “a basic or foundational right, derived from natural law; a right deemed by the Supreme Court to receive the highest level of Constitutional protection against government interference” (yourdictionary.com). The naming of education as a fundamental right became a highlighted issue in the 1973 San Antonio v. Rodriguez hearing. The court case was concerning the matter of financing of public schools in Texas which led to disparities in individual school resources. The court decided that the fiscal plan implemented by the state has “abundantly satisfied this standard” (U.S. Supreme Court 1973). The Supreme Court decision in San Antonio v. Rodriguez found that there is no constitutional right to education because it is not expressed so in the Constitution (oyez.org).

Education as a fundamental right was revisited in Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned the issue of a Texas law that required undocumented youth to pay fees in order to attend K-12 public schools. In what Andrew Stevenson describes as “landmark decision,” the Supreme Court “established the right of undocumented immigrant youth to education to the U.S.” (2004: 562). The court discussed that “education as a special public benefit, holding that the right to education lay somewhere between an ordinary and fundamental right, regardless of a person’s immigration status” (Stevenson 2004: 563). However, the court ultimately decided that education was not a fundamental right. The decision of the court guarantees the right to free education for undocumented youth only for K-12 public education. This means that undocumented youths are unable to receive state and federal funds for postsecondary education.

The decisions made in San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973) and Plyler v. Doe (1982) continue to affect the lives of students in the United States today. Every year undocumented youth graduate from high school prepared to continue on in postsecondary education but soon find that they are ineligible to receive state and federal funds for financial aid. In reference to postsecondary education, Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Undocumented youth in the United States are not equally accessible to higher education, especially when considering the burden of tuition fees. It is time that the Court revisited San Antonio v. Rodriguez and Plyler v. Doe to reexamine the issue of education as a fundamental right.

Works Cited:

Chaltain, Sam. (May 16, 2011). Your education is not an equal opportunity. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/05/16/chaltain.equal.education/index.html

Fundamental Right. (n.d.) In YourDictionary.com. Retrieved from http://law.yourdictionary.com/fundamental-right

Stevenson, Andrew. (2004). DREAMing of an Equal Future For Immigrant Children: Federal State Initiatives to Improve Undocumented Students’ Access to Postsecondary Education. Arizona Law Review, 46, 551-580.

San Antonio School District v Rodriquez. Retrieved from <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/sanantoniovrodriquez.html>.

San Antonio Independent School Dis v. Rodriguez. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1972/1972_71_1332

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

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