Anniversary of the EEOA Recalls the Promise of ESEA and Civil Rights Opportunity of ESSA
Forty-two years ago, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) was signed into law to help ensure that all children have access to an equal education. The law was passed in response to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols. In their decision the Court held that students who were not provided with programs to help them learn English were being denied their rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court concluded that the lack of English language learning opportunities essentially denied students equal educational opportunities based on their ethnicity.
The EEOA was adopted as part of a series of amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the EEOA expanded on the original civil rights promise of ESEA. Simply providing students with the same textbooks, classrooms, teachers, and curriculum does not constitute access to an equal education. The EEOA ensured that schools would no longer transfer students to a different school because they couldn’t speak English, thereby creating de facto segregation. If a school was failing to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that did not allow for equal educational opportunities, EEOA empowered students and their families, for the first time, to seek legal recourse.
During the effort to reauthorize ESEA and replace the No Child Left Behind law with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), House Democrats fought to promote and protect the civil rights of all students by ensuring equal access to educational opportunities. While much progress has been made, there is still more work to be done. A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed racial and socioeconomic segregation in our nation’s public schools has actually worsened in recent years. That is why Ranking Member Scott has introduced the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act (EIEA) to empower parents and communities to address – through robust enforcement – racial inequalities in public education. As we mark this anniversary of the EEOA, we recommit to fulfil the promise of the EEOA, the ESEA, and the opportunity presented by the ESSA.