Vol. LIII No. 3

Deciphering the Supremacy of Federal Funding Conditions: Why State Open Records Laws Must Yield to FERPA

Abstract: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that universities receiving federal funds through the U.S. Department of Education maintain baseline student privacy protections. Simultaneously, state open records laws require public universities, as state actors, to disclose certain types of information upon a request from the public. When both statutes apply to requested information, courts have reached opposite results as to the universities’ obligations. Some have concluded that the records must remain private because of FERPA. Others have concluded that the state open records law requires disclosure regardless, because FERPA is merely a funding condition and not a federal prohibition. This Note proposes a framework for more uniformly resolving the relationship between FERPA and state open records laws. It argues that FERPA is a valid federal conditional funding statute under the current unconstitutional conditions doctrine. As a result, the Supremacy Clause must dictate the outcome when FERPA and a state open records law conflict. Therefore, when a state open records law would require disclosure of information protected by FERPA, FERPA must trump the contradictory state law requirements as a binding federal law.

:: View PDF