The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Speaks, But Is Anyone Listening?

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently issued a sweeping 158-page report demonstrating how K-12 funding structures negatively impact opportunities for low-income students and students of color.

Among many recommendations, the report recommends that Congress act to grant incentives to states who adopt more equitable school finance systems, ensure adequate funding for students with disabilities, and increase federal funding to supplement state and local funding.

The report found that students living in segregated neighborhoods and concentrations of poverty, mostly students of color, receive less experienced teachers, fewer advanced courses, outdated technology and curricular materials, and more run-down facilities, all of which leads to a persistent achievement gap.  This is mostly due to a devastating confluence of discriminatory housing policies, outdated funding streams dictated by the wealth of communities, and de facto segregation.

That loud bang you just heard was the collective impact of anyone who has ever worked in a Title I school for more than a week hitting their head against their desk.  We know because we live it.  We’ve known it for a long time.  And yet, as the report indicates, the problem is getting worse.

This report is well-intentioned, well-researched, and significant in scope.  And yet, it is infuriating.  This is so because those most likely to read it are actively working within this flawed system and doing everything within their power to make it more equitable.  Those unlikely to read it are those with the most power to implement its recommendations –namely Congress and our current Administration.  To be blunt, this report is around 157 pages too long for the President of the United States.  The authors of the report are urging “bold action” to address inequitable funding in the public school system.  From whom?

From a Secretary of Education whose first meaningful experience in a public school was being vociferously booed on her first official visit on the job due to her openly hostile rhetoric and policy proposals?

From a wayward Republican Congress who believes we can’t afford Obama-era Medicare expansions to help poor families, but can afford a voluminous wall on the Mexican border and massive corporate tax cuts?

From a President who continues to speak and act in racist undertones after a life’s worth of similar rhetoric?

From a Congressional leadership who can’t achieve the most basic task of keeping the government up and running?

From an Attorney General intent on scaling up the war on drugs, thereby exacerbating the growing and undeniable school-to-prison pipeline?

These are the leaders who we are relying on to take “bold action” on the complex issues facing our nation’s children and their educators?

No.  Superman is not coming.  And so what can we do?

First, bipartisan policy groups can continue to push out empirical reports like the one described here because even if they aren’t read today, they can and likely will impact policy tomorrow.

Journalists can increase the depth and prevalence of education-funding pieces, illuminating and exposing an issue that often has trouble cutting through the vastness of the media landscape.

Educators can get political.  I wish we lived in a world where educators could close their doors, educate the hell out of their students, and do it again tomorrow.  But it’s not enough.  If we can’t make inroads on the national level, we can and should advocate for policies on the state or local level through old-fashioned grass roots organizing, building a movement from within the field itself.  The voices of educators must be amplified.

Legal organizations such as Pennsylvania’s Education Law Center can continue to make legal maneuvers on the local and state levels to impact policy.  Courts are notoriously slow to move, but the lengthy history of school segregation and funding cases indicates that there is a profound role for the legal community in this fight.  Some judges are increasingly cognizant that the legacies of Brown v. Board and San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez are ones of unfinished business.

Citizens can vote to elect representatives from the school board to the state house that vow to make educational equity a personal mission rather than Point 12 on their 14-point plan for America.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly at the moment, we can recruit, hire and retain a diverse corps of high-quality teachers and principals who live out the ideals of equity even without adequate resources.  These leaders, both within schools and on the systems level, continue to work relentlessly and creatively to access alternative funding streams because students are sitting in front of us right now and it cannot wait.

No, Superman is not coming.  She and he are already here toiling in our most high-needs schools for our most high-needs students.  But even Superman needs help.  It’s time to demand it.



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