As reported by the Associated Press, “Lawsuit claims Miss. fails to educate black children equally,” the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the parents of the children in this case, says the schools attended by the plaintiff’s children “lack text books, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs and even toilet paper.” Moved by this report, I began researching issues of inequality in our nation’s schools.
Here’s what I learned.
Neglect of the educational needs of poor children and children of color isn’t confined to schools in Mississippi. Across the United States – and here in Arizona – many schools in low-income and communities of color lack access to resources that largely white schools and those in wealthier districts take for granted. Sixty years after the Brown Decision to grant equal access to education, America’s most underserved schools continue to be those with largely black and Hispanic student enrollments. This is an important issue because as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor notes: “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”
President Trump’s Education Secretary, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, appointed as payback to Religious Right campaign donors, including the DeVos family, which has given millions to conservative causes, isn’t an advocate of public schools much less a supporter of equal educational opportunity. To understand what the Trump-DeVos education agenda is about, we need to follow the money being siphoned away from public schools and into the pockets of other entities, including private investors.
Under the guise of “school choice,” Secretary DeVos is using her position to advance what many see as a radical and patently unfair school voucher program that shifts money away from already underfunded public schools which are primarily attended by black and brown children, to private, religious, and charter public schools with predominantly white student enrollments. Choice could benefit children from underserved schools. But, too often, it results in white flight
Vouchers have worsened de facto segregation in Arizona’s public schools. Now largely attended by children from low-income and minority backgrounds, they are even more segregated today than they were 25 years ago. Arizona’s private and religious schools, as a group, are even less diverse than its public schools. Vouchers don’t cover the full cost of tuition. Children whose families cannot afford to pay tuition, plus transportation, uniforms and fees, are stranded in underserved public schools that aren’t likely to improve once their budgets have been raided and kids from better off families have moved on.
DeVos wreaked havoc in her home state (Michigan), where she lobbied to shield charter schools, which are publicly funded schools, from financial oversight and accountability for student learning. Charters are a lucrative business but secrecy and corruption make it difficult to uncover exact numbers. Lack of transparency and financial irregularities have also emerged as issues in Arizona’s school-voucher program, as have concerns that without provisions in place to ensure that schools will not be allowed to discriminate against marginalized groups, those refusing to accept students of color or kids from families headed by same-sex parents, the list goes on, would still be eligible to receive federal funding.
Congress must act to restore the equal education protections that have eroded in the decades since Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act (1964) were enacted, to safeguard these students’ rights before Trump and his Education Secretary do any more harm. Lastly, we should repeal the school voucher expansion bill signed by Gov. Ducey, which, it’s been said, politely promotes school segregation.
Josephine A. “Jo” Bright, Ph.D., is a retired educator and counseling psychologist who lives in GreenValley. She also is a member of alliance4action. Contact her at email@example.com.