WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s (MI-13) amendment ensuring the reduction of racial and socioeconomic segregation in our nation’s schools. The amendment is to the Strength in Diversity Act (H.R. 2639), which reauthorizes an Obama-era Department of Education grant program supporting local and regional efforts to decrease racial and socioeconomic isolation in public schools and seeks to undo the damage done by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s discontinuation of the program—her first act as Secretary of Education. Ending the program left $12 million in funding unused despite the nearly 30 school districts, including Detroit Public Schools, who had submitted applications for the funding. The Tlaib amendment would require recipients of grants under this legislation to detail the progress of regional efforts to reduce racial and socioeconomic isolation in their annual reports.
“In the year 2020, no school in America should be racially or socioeconomically segregated,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for passing an amendment that will take a much-needed step toward creating equitable educational opportunities for all children. On behalf of the students in my district who sued for their right to read, the students who walked out of class because their water fountains were poisoned with lead, and the countless more struggling to learn in a system marked by injustice, I urge my colleagues in the Senate to move on this legislation immediately. ”
The issue of racial and socioeconomic segregation in schools is one that hits close to home for Congresswoman Tlaib, a Detroit Public Schools graduate: Detroit Public Schools are some of the most heavily segregated in the nation, and the separate and unequal education students receive has been litigated throughout our history. In the 1974 Supreme Court case Milliken v. Bradley, the Court held that “dismantling a dual school system” in Michigan public schools didn’t require “any particular racial balance in each ‘school, grade or classroom.” School segregation in Michigan public schools has proliferated since and districts have been limited in their remedies—but a ray of hope came in the form of the so-called “Right To Read” case settled this May.
In that case, Detroit Public Schools students claimed that they were being denied the right to an education and to literacy due to multiple problems in their schools, such as rodent-infestations, unqualified teachers, inadequate and outdated textbooks, and a lack of resources. In the settlement reached just days before the 66th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, student plaintiffs were awarded $280,000 and the Detroit Public Schools Community District $2.72 million for literacy-related programming. Michigan Governor Whitmer also pledged to fight for millions more for Detroit students. While complicated legal maneuvering may have ultimately delayed recognition of a constitutional right to a basic education, advocates have made significant progress in that fight. Still, nearly 1 in 5 public school students in the U.S. attend racially isolated and underfunded schools.
Tlaib referenced these cases and disparities in an impassioned speech in support of her amendment and the bill on the House floor before they were passed.
The Strength in Diversity Act would also empower the Department of Education to carry out national activities under the grant program, such as developing best practices for grant recipients and other experts in school diversity and establish performance measures for the program and its related activities.
It now awaits consideration by the Senate.