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Education and Civil Rights– What to Expect in the Year Ahead

Education and Civil Rights-- What to Expect in the Year Ahead

Magazine, The Immigrant Experience

At a briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Service (EMS) and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, Experts and advocates in the civil rights field preview the education policy landscape in 2023, including the Supreme Court challenges to federal student loan debt cancellation and affirmative action in higher education, school discipline, threats to equal educational opportunity, and early childhood care and education.

Moderated by Liz King, Senior Program Director of Education Equity, The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s work is about the education and civil rights landscape in 2023. The civil and human rights community works together every day to protect all students from discrimination and ensure equal opportunity in education. We know that education policy decisions must be informed by the values, priorities, and experiences of marginalized people. For too long people of color, LGBTQ people, marginalized people with disabilities, immigrants, religious minorities, English learners, girls,s low-income people, and other marginalized people have had their stories told by someone else. Their opportunity to attend a school that is warm, and welcoming and that prepares them for the full exercise of their social political, and economic rights, have been deprived.  We are here today to talk about threats to equal opportunity and the need to advance justice and equity. We will hear first about the significant harm black and Latino students would face if the Supreme Court rejects the president’s program to cancel student loan debt, then we will hear about the need for the Supreme Court to promote a multiracial democracy, next we will hear about the need for safe healthy and inclusive schools that reject discriminatory and criminalizing practices, we will also hear about the attacks on teaching about race, the efforts to access  Equitable high-quality early care and education and protect the civil rights of our youngest learners.

Genevieve “Genzie” Bonadies Torres, Associate Director Education Opportunities Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The covid 19 pandemic was an unprecedented health,  social and economic crisis. The Biden-Harris administration, student debt relief plan is an urgently needed moral and lawful response. The plan provides targeted relief for over 40 million working and middle-class Americans whose family finances and entire livelihoods were devastated by this pandemic. 

Without this relief, millions of borrowers will be pushed past the financial brink when student loan repayments restart, and among them are millions of borrowers of color who we know have been hardest hit by the pandemic. This foreseeable spike and default will leave millions of borrowers, blocking their ability to pay for basic necessities and preventing them from securing affordable housing among other adverse outcomes. The Higher Education Relief Opportunities For Students Act authorizes the secretary of education to mitigate precisely these harms and yet opponents with special interests will politicize have launched several lawsuits challenging the legality of this amply justified legal plan. Most of these lawsuits have been dismissed but few have made their way to the Supreme Court. Biden vs Nebraska and the Department of Education vs Brown. The cases have been expedited, and oral arguments are scheduled for February 28th. Let’s be clear, the debt relief plan faithfully adheres to the Heroes Act, specifically, the Heroes Act allows the secretary to take action in a national emergency and in this case Covid 19 to make sure affected borrowers are not placed in a worse place financially because of that emergency. Evidence shows that the debt relief plan achieves exactly these aims. And key civil rights are on the line. The lawyers’ committee spearheaded an amicus brief where along with 21 advocacy organizations that underscore that the stakes are particularly high for people of color and particularly women of color because Covid .19 has exacerbated racial disparities and inflicted acute harm on black and Latinx borrowers. To begin, black and Latinx borrowers suffered economic setbacks from covid 19 and employment setbacks for low-income workers. Approximately one out of five Latina and black women abruptly found themselves without work, covid-19 also took a disproportionate toll on the health of black and Latinx communities whose infection and death rates were substantially higher than average existing wealth. Ultimately given the negative impact of the pandemic on the economic and financial setbacks suffered by these communities, it is imperative that the Supreme Court should uphold the Biden-Harris financial debt relief plan. 

Michaele N. Turnage Young, Senior Counsel, Legal Defense Fund (LDF)

I serve as a senior counsel at the legal defense fund. As background, the legal defense fund is a non-partisan organization that has fought for equal access to higher education for more than 80 years. It has been involved in every race.  So let me briefly discuss existing law, under 44 years it is is settled precedent that it is legally permissible for colleges and universities to consider race as one of many factors and admissions. It is important to bear in mind that the Supreme Court considered how the quotas were impermissible back in 1978, so we’re not talking about quotas, what we are talking about is the limited consideration of race as one of the factors of UNC  the oldest public university in the country. As was the case with earlier challenges to the admissions policies of public universities that UNC violates the equal protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution by considering race as one of many factors and admissions importantly the equal protection universities it does not apply to private actors Harvard case is the first challenge to erase conscious admissions policy involving a private college three Supreme Court but even though it is a private university  Harvard receives federal funding so in the lawsuits consideration of race as one of many factors and admissions violates title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits federally funded programs from engaging in racial discrimination. That claim is novel since in earlier admissions challenges the claim was that the consideration of race and admission harmed white applicants, in both cases the petitioner asked in their complaints that the schools were barred from allowing their admissions officers to become aware of the race of any applicant issue in the Harvard case the courthouse at Harvard’s admissions policy survive strict scrutiny because it was narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest in the pursuit of the educational benefits of diversity. In addition and even though SFFA analyzed 480 admission files 2/3 of which were selected by SFFA and data from about 150,000 applicants SFFA did not present even a single admission file or application, given this the court found no evidence of intentional discrimination the US court of appeals for the first circuit affirmed that decision in the UNC case. The district court likewise held a long bench trial and of course, as I’m sure most of you know the Supreme Court heard five hours of all arguments on Halloween in 2022, unfortunately, while talent is everywhere in our country opportunity is not. Too many students of color must contend with systemic and interpersonal racism that detrimentally affects their educational opportunities. It is important that colleges and universities continue to be allowed to consider the full context of experiences including the way that applications are considered so that everyone has a fair shot. 

AJ Link, Policy Analyst, Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)

I will start by presenting the 8 principles of the Leadership Conference : 

  1. principle 1, To ensure the rights of our students 
  2. Principle 2 is to encourage schools to implement comprehensive supportive discipline practices,  
  3. principle 3 is to address childhood trauma principle
  4.  4 is to enhance action  against harassment and discrimination,
  5.  principle 5 is to enforce the ability to collect accurate and comprehensive data collection,
  6. principle 6 to invest in school infrastructure that supports a positive school climate
  7.  principle 7 is to eliminate school-based law enforcement and 
  8. principle 8 is to eliminate threats to students’ health and safety 

So what can we do in this legislative environment?

Well, there’s a suit that the leadership conference has endorsed on and has signed on to . Those are the counseling not Communication in school act which ends Federal funding for school-based law enforcement and redirects those funds to counselors and teachers and positive support for children in schools.
There’s the Keep All Students Safe Act which supports alternatives to exclusionary discipline in schools and prevents criminalization and pushout of students from schools and especially students who are extremely dangerous. As disabled advocates, we are very much against any type of school bill which puts the threat and safety of our students in danger. 

Morgan Craven, J.D., National Director of Policy, Advocacy and Community Engagement, Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) 

I am the national director of policy advocacy and Community Engagement at IDRA, we are a nonprofit focused on ensuring all students have access to excellent and equitable schools that prepare them for college. I’m going to speak about the attacks on equal educational opportunities that we have seen in the form of classroom censorship, the targeting of systemically marginalized students and communities, and challenges to schools’ diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. From 60years of  Education policy Training work culturally sustaining schools are key to students’ success and what we mean by that is this culturally sustaining schools are places where every student feels welcome, no one is asked to check parts of their identity at the door, everyone sees themselves and their communities reflected in the curriculum and instructional practices, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are meaningful, and everyone feels safe. We know that these types of learning environments are beneficial for all students and adults in a school community and we must challenge any efforts to undermine them. We believe that in 2023 we will continue to see policies that threaten the schools that we want for all students, we expect to see policies that continue to target young people of color and lgbtq+ youth, eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and ban books and other materials in both K12 schools and institutions of higher education. We expect Federal hearings in the house that target individual schools and organizations that promote diversity, equity inclusion, and culturally sustaining initiatives in schools and we expect to see more parental rights to family engagement in schools. To give a bit of background of policies that I’m describing, attacks on equal educational opportunity have certainly come in many forms over many generations but a few years ago we began to see a coordinated effort to attack, what was framed as Critical Race Theory or CRT and K-12 schools. It’s important to know fundamentally it has been about censorship and about control over our collective history and narratives over how we talk about discrimination, bias, and even race itself and control over how we are able to create diverse inclusive, and equitable schools that we want. According to an analysis by Education Week,one thing that we’ve always known is that the attacks would be much broader than just those beneficial issues, those who have pushed classroom censorship beginning in 2020 have also politicized other issues in schools, they have targeted and excluded lgbtq+ students through restrictions on self-expression participation and activities and they encourage diverse meaningful and authentic family engagement in schools., violent rhetoric and divisive action for political gain, they have proposed vouchers and other funding schemes that would take public funds away from home, doubled down on previous threats to target professors at colleges and universities that teach CRT or other so-called liberal philosophies and the consequences of these campaigns are not just rhetorical they are real and they are very serious and I will give you a few examples. Racism, gender-based discrimination, plus police in their schools create various barriers to their learning.  We know that students, teachers, and families feel excluded from and unwelcome in their school communities when curricula and books about people like them are condemned and challenged or banned, we know that keys to stop data collection about student outcomes based on race equities in learning and achievement even by framing those strategies as racist themselves.For example, the Virginia Governor’s first executive order attempted to do just that within the State Education Agency before classroom censorship laws and other attacks on identity but students are reporting experiencing this type of targeting even more lately and teachers and administrators say they feel confused about how they are expected to talk about and respond to discrimination when they are denied training or when they are issued a list of so-called divisive concepts that they’re not allowed to address in their classrooms. Feeling direct fear and the chilling effects of these policies which heightens an already problematic teacher shortage issue across the country, viewing what a lot of young people, families, and advocates are pushing for besides a repeal of these harmful policies. We have a responsibility to protect the rights of all students and districts have discriminatory policies that threaten those rights and compromise learning.  We are pushing for resources training and support for culturally sustaining schools. Administrators and teachers need support to teach truthfully and to incorporate culturalistic practices into their classrooms.  They should be able to explain a range of challenging and important concepts in an age-appropriate way without fear of tax from their communities, and families. Community engagement, partnership, family leadership, and Community involvement are really important in schools and need to be collaborative and inclusive, and not combative. 

Whitney Pesek, J.D., Director of Federal Child Care Policy, National Women’s Law Center

 I’m the director of federal childcare policy at the National Women’s Law Center and I’m a second-generation early educator so this issue is very personal to me at the Law Center. We are advocates, experts, and lawyers who fight for gender justice taking on issues that are central to the lives of women and girls. We drive change in the courts, in public policy, and in our society, especially for women facing multiple forms of discrimination. We use the law and all its forms to change the culture and drive solutions to the gender and equity that shapes our society and to break down the barriers that harm all of us, especially women of color, lgbtq+ people, and women and families with low incomes. We are entering year four of a pandemic that pressure-tested early care and education systems and families alike. For the early care and education sector the covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the deep inequities of an early care and education system that relies on families paying unaffordable sums. Educators being paid poverty-level wages and too many communities across the country lacking sufficient workforce or facilities in an early care education center costs more than in-state college tuition and in one study well over half of two-child families spent more on child care than on rent. Additionally, federal dollars don’t come close to subsidizing all the children and families who are eligible for assistance paying for early care and education. Families particularly in rural areas struggle with a lack of care options, research has found that over half of people in the United States live in efficient by of license care. The problem will not fix itself, the cost of child care has been rising faster than inflation for years and will continue to rise deeply absent public investment. Over the past 30 years early care and education prices have risen faster than twice the rate of inflation, faster than the price of food, housing, and other items. These rising prices are not only the lack of federal investment in early care and education impacting families but it is also one of the lowest-paid professions in the United States. Despite how valuable the work is and the extensive research pointing to the importance of the early years for young children’s healthy development, wages for early childcare providers average less than $12 per hour, about half of the programs do not offer health benefits and recent data shows that over half of early educators were enrolled in at least one Public Assistance or Support Program.  The pandemic has only brought more challenges, especially for women of color who comprise a significant portion of the underpaid early care and education workforce and also have the least access to affordable care for their children and it’s not only the adults who are impacted, children under 5 years old are the most diverse generation in the United States history so investing in high-quality affordable care and education is a racial and gender justice imperative to address these deep inequities in the United States early care and education system in order to ensure that children and families have access to and are included in comprehensive diverse and high-quality early care and education settings.

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