Chairman Scott Remarks Honoring 67th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

WASHINGTON – Today, Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) gave the following remarks to commemorate the 67th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education at the American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice webinar, entitled “Brown at 67: Reflecting and Reimagining.” 

“Thank you all for inviting me today to join this important discussion.

“In the 67 years since Brown v. Board of Education, the Education and Labor Committee has played a key role in our nation’s progress towards achieving the promise of educational equity.

“In fact, to combat Southern opposition to the decision, then-Chairman of the Committee, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., started attaching anti-discrimination clauses to so many education bills that his amendment became recognized as the Powell Amendment.  This amendment would become the basis of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

“Recognizing the need to reinforce the 1954 decision, Chairman Powell also helped pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  This critical legislation acknowledged that, because public schools are generally funded by the real estate tax, to address funding in low-income, you have to invest resources in those areas.  That is what Title I of ESEA does.

“Despite the original progress made towards fulfilling the promise of Brown and integrating schools, starting in the 1970s, a more conservative Supreme Court and more conservative Congress regressed to the point where our public schools are actually more segregated by race and class today than at any time since the 1960s.

“This segregation just doesn’t isolate students.  It isolates their opportunities.  And it has been shown to isolate their funding. 

“Even before COVID-19, funding for public school districts serving predominantly Black students was significantly less than the funding found in districts serving predominantly white students. 

“Now, the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, and this is especially true—as was already mentioned—when it comes to distance learning.

“According to a 2020 GAO report, Black and Latino students disproportionally lack access to computers and the reliable home internet necessary for virtual learning.

“So, the traditional ‘summer slide’ has been going on for over a year.

“But today’s event is not about what I call ‘celebrating the problem.’  We are also discussing solutions to address persistent achievement gaps.

“The federal role in these efforts is to supplement financial support for low-income children to reduce educational resource inequities and, as I indicated, that is what Title I does. 

“To that end, I helped pass the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided the most significant one-time federal investment in K-12 education in our nation’s history.  To ensure that the funds were targeted by need, this funding is being distributed through the Title I formula. 

“So, if you ask wealthy areas how they fared, they are going to be disappointed, but low-income areas are getting money that they have never seen before.  That is why we need to make sure they are using that relief appropriately.

“They need to use it, first, to comply with CDC guidelines to reopen their classrooms safely, but at least 20 percent of the funds must be used to address lost learning time, funding such things as comprehensive afterschool and summer programs, extending school days, funding counselors and nurses to support students’ emotional well-being, and funding assistant teachers and smaller class sizes.  They can afford this with the money they got through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The package has also bolstered what is called the Pandemic-EBT program, which has provided nutrition assistance to families who are missing out on free or reduced-price school meals.

“Moving forward, the Committee is continuing to work with the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure that future relief packages address the educational inequities that are steeped in our country’s structural racism.

“As classrooms reopen, millions of students and staff are returning to crumbling and unsafe schools.  According to the GAO, more than half of all school districts need to repair major systems in more than half their buildings.  This includes 4 in 10 districts that need to repair or replace ventilation systems in at least half of their buildings.  The CDC has identified ventilation as a key element to reopening schools.

“Accordingly, the Biden-Harris American Jobs Plan includes key elements of legislation I introduced, called the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which provides $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority to address physical and digital infrastructure needs at high-poverty schools—again—distributed by the Title I formula so it goes where it is most needed.

“To deal with school segregation, this Congress, I also reintroduced two bills: one, the Strength in Diversity Act and, the other, the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act.

“The Strength in Diversity Act is a grant program that would provide resources to school districts that want to voluntarily develop school integration plans.  Because of voluntary plans—as you know—in Seattle and Louisville that were ruled unconstitutional, technical assistance will be obtained under these grants so that localities can develop effective integration plans that can withstand constitutional challenges.

“The Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act restores the private right of action for students and parents, along with local civil rights groups, to bring Title VI discrimination claims based on racially disparate impact.  As you know, the Sandoval decision about two decades ago eliminated the private right of action for disparate impact cases under Title VI and so, if the Department of Education doesn’t bring the case, nothing happens.  I don’t have to describe to this group how that worked under the last presidential administration.

“These are just a few of my priorities to meet this critical moment for our education system.  As we pass historic relief packages to help school communities recover from the pandemic, we have the opportunity to eliminate persistent funding and achievement gaps and finally take actions to achieve the promise of Brown.

“To that end, I look forward to working with the ABA and education leaders nationwide to finally ensure that all students have access to the lifelong benefits that come with a quality education.”