Yesterday, President Obama released the last budget of his presidency with a focus on promoting equity in education. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) supports the President’s emphasis on promoting equal access to quality educational opportunities in his budget and encourages Congress to take up these proposals to help all students achieve and succeed in K-12 schools and college.
The budget includes a number of significant funding priorities for programs that help to promote equal access to quality educational opportunities and mitigate the effects of concentrated poverty. LDF applauds the inclusion of these important priorities, such as: support for early learning programs; increased support to districts serving high proportions of low-income students; the Stronger Together Program, which is aimed at fostering diversity; and financial incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, for educators working in high-need schools. LDF recommends that Congress fund these priority areas to ensure that all students have access to a strong educational foundation and the tools to succeed.
“We cannot ignore our country’s history of racial and economic segregation that has perpetuated educational inequalities,” said Janel George, LDF’s Senior Education Policy Counsel. “We applaud the President’s Budget for its recognition of the need for socioeconomic diversity, through programs like Stronger Together. While socioeconomic diversity cannot be a direct proxy for racially diverse schools, which have proven beneficial for the academic achievement of all students, it can help to decrease racial disparities in education.”
LDF also supports the budget’s increase of funding to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which handles a range of discrimination complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964–including complaints regarding discriminatory school discipline practices that fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline. We recommend that Congress support this funding increase to help expand OCR’s ability to investigate and expeditiously resolve Title VI complaints and address discriminatory practices in our nation’s public schools. Because private rights of action under Title VI disparate impact claims are foreclosed, many rely on OCR to investigate Title VI complaints of discrimination in schools. However, many students who have experienced discrimination in public schools live in limbo as they await the resolution of Title VI complaints, which can sometimes take years to resolve. Expanding OCR’s capacity to resolve these complaints quickly is essential to ensuring the overall educational equity that the budget seeks to promote. It is also important that OCR use this funding increase to vigorously monitor “resolution agreements” with schools previously found to have violated laws against discrimination. We encourage OCR to assess school compliance with these agreements via site visits and other independent evaluation methods that go beyond documentation submitted by schools operating under such agreements.
In the area of higher education, LDF welcomes the President’s budget’s increased support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This support is essential to sustain institutions that have provided exceptional access to education for students of color for well over a century. We also applaud support for two years of free community college, which is instrumental to expanding access to higher education opportunities for a range of students who might not otherwise attend college.
LDF urges Congress to pass the President’s budget proposal for the Department of Education, particularly in the areas of educational equity outlined above. The budget’s focus on greater educational equity and the expansion of access to quality educational experiences are key steps towards expanding social and economic opportunity for all.
Finally, while it is not part of the current budget proposal, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) remains a mechanism that states can use to further expand access to educational equity. We look forward to an inclusive process in the implementation of ESSA, particularly in ensuring that states bring a diverse group of individuals and community representatives to the table in the drafting of state plans to help address achievement gaps and promote student success.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.