Rep. Conyers decries growing public school segregation
Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers is calling attention to a report showing increased segregation in U.S. public schools on the 62nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down the principle of “separate, but equal” in schools and other public facilities.
The Detroit Democrat said the Government Accountability Office report “confirmed that not only are our schools largely segregated by race and class, they are also re-segregating at an alarming and obvious rate.
“The percentage of schools in which 75 percent of students are both low income and Hispanic or African-American has increased from 9 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2014,” he said during a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday.
“Charter schools have seen similarly alarming trends, growing from 3 percent to 13 percent segregated by low income and racial ethnicity,” he continued.
The findings were included in the report conducted at the behest of Conyers and other Democrats on the House Education and Workforce and Judiciary committees. The results come amid debate about the condition of public schools in Detroit, which are struggling with debt and labor unrest among teachers who recently conducted a “sickout” that resulted in the closure of 90 of the city’s 94 public schools.
Conyers, the top ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the numbers are particularly disturbing since Tuesday was the 62nd anniversary of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in the United States.
“Today marks the anniversary of the landmark Brown vs Board of Education decision, which was a catalyst that provided a fundamental shift in policy and in thinking in the United States and the United States’ Congress in regard to education and equity,” he said. “But despite the progress that was made with that decision, its impact has not been completely felt.”
Conyers said he is introducing legislation with Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., that would require schools in states that were identified by the 1964 Civil Rights Act to “designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with” federal diversity requirements for U.S. schools.
The longest-serving member of Congress cited a recent order by a federal judge to force a school district in Mississippi to desegregate as evidence of the problems that were identified by the new report that he said would be fixed by the pending legislation, which is known as the “Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act.”
“Just yesterday, 62 years after the decision, a federal judge ordered a school district in Mississippi to desegregate its middle and high schools, which were running under an unconstitutional system,” he said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called attention to issues with school segregation in Detroit.
“Detroit schools are completely segregated, racially and economically,” she said. “Segregation has gotten worse over time, not better. And we’re fighting every day against things like black mold in our schools; against things like starvation in schools; against things like a technological school having no internet to actually do the technology that they have been promised.”
Weingarten said Tuesday’s anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision “should be a birthday where we should be celebrating the power of a Supreme Court unanimous decision that would have offered and prompted desegregation and economic opportunities throughout our country.
“And yet we’re here looking at a GAO report that says that segregation in our schools has gotten worse since 2009, not better,” she said.
Weingarten said she hopes Congress will pass the legislation to require school systems to have monitors to catch problems with diversity that would result in increased segregation.
“As a country we owe an obligation to ensure that all kids get a great education,” she said. “These are things that are not just important for kids in the district where I grew up in Youngstown, N.Y. These are the things that are important to kids in Detroit, Michigan.”