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United States Legal System

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In the United States legal system there are fundamentally three sources of law, the Constitution, legislation, and the courts. The US Constitution defines the basic powers of the three branches of govern­ment, and establishes the rights and responsibilities of the people. The legislature (the US Congress or state legislature) enacts laws by the representatives of the people. The courts provide legal rulings that define and interpret the law, and court cases provide important "pre­cedent" for later cases. This is the basis of the common law system that had its origin in the British legal system.

Nearly 50 years ago the most important legal issue in American edu­cation was the question of integrated schools. The landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case determined that a "sepa­rate but equal" system of US education violated the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. For many years after the decision in Brown, the states struggled with the question of integration, how to break down the barriers to equal education for all races. A controver­sial method was forced "bussing" of students, and for many years this was the most divisive issue in US education. Many of these issues have been resolved, although the school systems in many urban with minority populations still suffer from neglect and lack of adequate support. In the 1990's there has been increasing dissatisfaction with a public school system that is often viewed as big, inefficient, bureau­cratic, and unresponsive the needs of the students.

In the US Education system today there are two important issues relating to educational reform, and both of them have unresolved le­gal questions. Both issues have arisen as a result of parents and neigh­borhood schools seeking to have a greater control over the education of their children. The first issue is that of "vouchers", a system whereby a family is given a credit of a certain amount of money to apply to the education of their child. This credit can be used in a private or paro­chial (religious) school, or any other qualified institution. This is de­signed to give parents a greater freedom of choice, but it was chal­lenged on the ground that it violates the US Constitution. The First Amendment provides that the government "shall make no law respect­ing an establishment of religion" and this brief clause formed the basis of the separation of church and state in America for more than two hundred years.

Many people oppose the voucher system, including the teachers unions, who claim that it will drain limited resources away from public schools. And many feel that the voucher is merely a way to cover up state support for religious education. They argued that the voucher system violated the US Constitution. But in November 1998, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case challenging the Wisconsin voucher law. The Wisconsin courts had found the law to be valid. The practical effect of this case was to allow other states to adopt similar laws, and the trend can be expected to continue. Other states are now likely to follow the Wisconsin model, but it is entirely up to the state legislature to approve a system of vouchers.

The second major issue in US educational reform today is the char­ter school system. These are public schools, but they are "chartered" under special contracts designed to give the local school, and the par­ents, a much greater degree of freedom in choosing the curriculum and teachers. There are more than 30 states in the US today with charter school laws, and each one is different. The strongest charter school laws give the greatest autonomy and

permit the greatest flexibility in the type of organization that can sponsor a charter school. In some states even "for profit" corpora­tions can run a charter school. In many states charter schools are exempted from most state educational laws, including the requirement to hire union teachers. Needless to say, the teacher's unions have often opposed charter schools.

It is interesting to note that both the voucher system and the charter school movement are working primarily to assist low-income students. As a practical matter in the US, this means minority students. The Wisconsin voucher program limits assistance to families with incomes no more than 175% of the "poverty" line. This means that the wealthier families (more than half of the public school population) are not eli­gible. Both the voucher system and the charter school system have had some degree of success because low-income parents want the best possible education for their children. And this may not always be found in the traditional system of large public schools. There seems to be an increasing trend towards charter schools in America, and each state has a different approach towards the level of autonomy provided.


legal - юридический;
issue - вопрос;
to face - сталкиваться;
source - источник;
legislation - законодательство;
court - суд;
to define - определять, давать определение;
branch - ветвь;
to establish - устанавливать;
responsibility - обязанность;
legislature - законодательная власть;
to enact - принимать (закон);
to provide - обеспечивать, предоставлять;
ruling - управление;
to interpret - толковать;
case - случай, дело;
basis - основа;
common - общий, общепринятый;
origin - происхождение;
integrated - объединенный, совместный;
landmark - поворотный пункт, веза;
vs. = versus - против;
board - совет;
supreme - верховынй;
to determine - определять;
separate - раздельный;
equal - равный;
to violate - нарушать;
protection - защита;
clause - статья, пункт;
to struggle - бороться;
to break down - разрушить;
controversial - противоречивый;
to force - застявлять, принуждать;
divisive - разделяющий (людей);
to resolve - решать;
urban - городской;
to suffer (from) - страдать (от);
neglect - пренебрежение;
lack (of) - отсутствие, нехватка;
support - поддержка;
to increase - увеличивать;
to view - рассматривать;
inefficient - неэффективный;
responsive - ответный (о взгляде и.д.);
to relate (to) - относиться (к);
to seek - искать;
whereby - при помощи, посредством; как, чем;
certain - некий, определенный;
amount - сумма, количество;
to apply - применять, использовать;
parochial - приходской;
institution - учреждение;
designed - здесь: предназначенный;
to challenge - здесь: оспаривать;
amendment - поправка;
to provide - обеспечивать, предоставлять;
to respect - уважать;
brief - краткий, сжатый;
to oppose - противостоять;
to claim - утверждать;
to drain - истощать (средства);
public school - государственная школа;
way - способ;
merely - просто;
to cover up - спрятать, прикрыть;
to argue - оспаривать;
to refuse - отказываться;
valid - действительный, имеющий силу;
to allow - позволять, разрешать;
to adopt - принимать (закон);
similar - подобный, схожий;
trend - тенденция;
entirely - полностью, целиком;
charter - устав; привилегия; даровать (хартию, грамоту..);
to permit - позволять, разрешать;
flexibility - гибкость;
to sponsor - спонсировать, финансировать;
for-profit - коммерческий;
to exempt (from) - освобождать (от);
requirement - требование;
to hire - принимать на работу;
movement - движение;
low-income - низкий доход;
matter - вопрос;
to limit - ограничивать;
wealthy - состоятельный;
eligible - подходящий; желательный;
degree - степень;
approach - подход;
towards - к, по отношению к;
access (to) - доступ (к);
to rank - распределять, классифицировать.

Ex. Answer the following questions.
1. What are the sources of law in the U.S. legal system?
2. What are the functions of each of them?
3. What was the most important legal issue in American education 50 years ago?
4. What is the attitude of public toward the public school system in 1990-s?
5. What does the "voucher program" mean"? Give its historic background.
6. Do all people in America support this system?
7. What is the second major issue in U.S. educational reform?
8. What does a charter school mean?
9. Why do the teacher's unions oppose charter schools?
10. Who are supported by the voucher system and the charter school movement

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