What People Are Saying: Strength in Diversity Act of 2020

WASHINGTON — More than 66 years after the landmark Supreme court decision in Brown v. Board, we have yet to fulfill the promise of equity in education. The Strength in Diversity Act of 2020 (H.R. 2639) provides funding and expertise to support school districts that are voluntarily developing, implementing, or expanding school diversity initiatives. Here’s what the leading education and civil rights groups are saying about the bill:

American Federation of Teachers (AFT): As our country reckons with our history of racism and the ongoing institutional injustices directed at communities of color, our public schools have a critical role to play in modeling diversity, teaching tolerance, and preparing our next generation to enter a world where they feel seen and heard. We have a great deal of work to do in making our public schools more equitable and more diverse—a dream we still struggle to realize decades after Brown v. Board of Education—as schools are still segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines. Thanks to Reps. Marcia Fudge and Bobby Scott, we can begin to reconsider how to make that dream a reality, by changing school assignment rules and funding other avenues to help increase diversity in public schools,” said President Randi Weingarten.

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School: "Racial isolation of students is a persistent source of inequality in our nation. As an organization named after the architect of Brown v. Board of Education, we urge passage of this critical legislation. While we emphasize the need for much broader change in all the institutions of our society to dismantle the ongoing effects of American racism, we also recognize the need to increase the diversification of all our schools as an essential starting point,” said David Harris, Managing Director.

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: "Sixty-six years following Brown v. Board of Education, we find that many of our nation's public schools are more racially segregated today than the late 1960s," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Strength in Diversity Act could increase diversity in our schools and provide equal educational opportunities to all, regardless of race or socioeconomic standing. Rep. Fudge's legislation provides the funding necessary to develop strategies aimed at increasing diversity and strengthening school systems. We are in a defining moment in our country's history in which the federal government must take bold action to promote core principles of diversity and inclusion."

Magnet Schools of America: “The growth of high-quality magnet schools in districts across the country proves that combating racial and socioeconomic isolation is not impossible. But it does require the federal government to prioritize providing funding for innovative programs that promote diversity in school districts nationwide. MSA applauds the House on passage of the Strength in Diversity Act and urges the Senate to follow suit and enact this important legislation,” said Todd Mann, Executive Director of Magnet Schools of America (MSA).

National Association of Secondary School Principals: "None of us benefits from learning in a bubble. Gathering people of all backgrounds to learn together as a community is the essence of public education, whose value has been proven repeatedly. But the battle to realize that ideal did not end in 1954. The Brown decision removed the legal obstacle to segregated schools, but it did little to counter the centuries-old caste divisions our nation drew along racial and socioeconomic lines. Any school leader can tell you how fiercely those divisions persist, and how real the effects are, even within districts: One school’s fundraiser can generate hundreds of dollars, while another school raises hundreds of thousands. More experienced educators often migrate to whiter, more affluent schools. Those socioeconomic lines won’t move unless we work actively and intentionally to move them. Rep. Fudge and Sen. Murphy recognize that, and the nation’s principals are grateful for their codifying that intention in the Strength in Diversity Act,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, CEO.

National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) Steering Committee: We know that racial and economic diversity in our schools and classrooms is essential to ensuring all students have access to a quality educational experience. The Strength in Diversity Act puts the federal government firmly in support of communities and local governments that are prioritizing this goal,” said Tanya Clay House.

"Decades of research and experience on the ground have demonstrated that school diversity carries enormous benefits over the course of students' lives. The Strength in Diversity Act builds on this understanding to support equitable and diverse schools that reflect America at its best. The Strength in Diversity Act enables public schools to be the necessary training grounds we so desperately need in our increasingly diverse democracy,” said Susan Eaton, Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at the Heller School at Brandeis University.

"The destructive path of COVID-19 mirrors the destruction left by generations of segregated communities and schools. Now more than ever, we need decisive action from the federal government to desegregate schools. As we have seen in New York City and across the State, resources to support community planning for integration is crucial to creating meaningfully integrated schools. We applaud Congress members Fudge and Scott for continuing to lead the charge at the federal level to support integration. The time to act is now,” said Matthew Gonzales, NYU Metro Center.

“Our children need optimum educational experiences and learning in racially isolated classrooms is antithetical to the goal. The Strength in Diversity Act is a critical tool to further voluntary integration programs, which will prepare our children for the future emotionally and academically,” said Elaine Gross, ERASE Racism. 

"The Strength in Diversity Act is a historic step forward that will make it known that in the 21st century our country still believes in racially and socioeconomically integrated education.  Now, more than ever, we can see the results of the systemic racism that undermines equity and opportunity for all of our students.  We need immediate action to allow our school districts to address the underlying causes of segregation by funding and facilitating innovative and evidence-based strategies,” said Brenda Shum, National Center for Youth Law.

“The Strength in Diversity Bill provides critical support in this moment where the disproportionality of the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprisings for racial justice have put a spotlight on how systemic racism lies at the core of a whole gamut of American institutions, including education. School integration and related efforts to provide educational equity and limit racial isolation are an important part of addressing this urgent call for racial justice and educational equity. Providing additional support for these efforts will be even more critical as school districts face the anticipated budget cuts caused by economic impact and the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Districts will need this support to help schools begin and maintain integration efforts that address racial disparities, racial isolation and remove barriers to Black student achievement,” said Monique Lin-Luse, NAACP LDF.

National Education Association: “Every day, the 3 million members of the National Education Association try to stand in the ever-widening gaps that are adversely compounding and impacting the learning of far too many of our students. We do this because we know, all too well, about the inequities that have been built into interconnected social systems, and we believe that all students — regardless of their ethnicity or income — deserve an inspiring education that prepares them for success. The Strength in Diversity Act recognizes that socioeconomic and racial segregation deny many of our Black, brown and indigenous students’ access to the rich educational opportunities that will help them achieve their goals. Through supporting voluntary efforts to increase diversity, this legislation will help bring about fairness and equity for students in every community,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.   

New York Appleseed: "In New York City we have seen that when local leadership chooses equity, inclusivity and integration as goals and provides resources to support community engagement toward those goals, successful diversity plans can emerge. The Strength and Diversity Act provides funding and guidance on supports and accountability structures necessary for communities nationwide to construct and implement plans that aim to repair the destructive consequences of decades of segregation,” said Nyah Berg, Integrated Schools Project Director.

Poverty & Race Research Action Council: “There is a growing recognition that separating schoolchildren by race and income is wrong – and parents and school district leaders all across the country are looking for new ways to bring children together. This new program would give school districts the tools and funding to develop locally driven school integration plans and to work together across school district lines,” said Philip Tegeler, Executive Director.

The Century Foundation (TCF): “At an important moment of racial reckoning for the nation, The Strength in Diversity Act takes meaningful strides toward ensuring our nation’s unrealized promise of equal educational opportunity. Today’s historic vote marks the first time in decades that the House of Representatives has debated legislation to directly address the issue of school segregation, which is at the heart of so much of our nation’s educational inequality. The bill provides important support to communities that are proactively and voluntarily bringing together kids of different backgrounds,” said TCF senior fellow Richard Kahlenberg.

“The inequities in America’s public schools are directly linked to broader inequalities and injustices in society. Sixty-six years after Brown v. Board, school segregation is still one of the principle tools with which to uphold white supremacy. We’ve reified a system in which our schools and neighborhoods are both separate and unequal, robbing countless children of the opportunities needed to flourish in life,” said TCF senior fellow Halley Potter.

“The benefits of school integration are crystal clear: diverse classrooms benefit all students, not only in educational terms but also as a means to instill values of mutual understanding and cooperation. Integration is good for education and for our country. As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once wrote, ‘Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together,’” said TCF senior policy associate Michelle Burris. 

“Despite how segregated our schools remain, the good news is that a growing number of schools and districts are recognizing the benefits of integration and taking bold steps to diversify their classrooms and enact curriculum that reflects our nation’s diversity. The Strength in Diversity Act will only accelerate that trend, by steering funds to local leaders who are championing racial and socioeconomic integration efforts. The legislation acknowledges the hard truths of our unequal school system and takes meaningful steps to remedy a two-tiered system of educational opportunity,” said TCF fellow Stefan Lallinger.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “During this time of national reckoning with race and systemic racism in America, support for diversity and inclusion in our schools could not be more important. Federal support and funding from the Strength in Diversity Act for professional development, data collection, and other activities is imperative to ensure public schools and publicly funded early education programs move toward inclusion. It is long past time that our schools reflect our nation’s greatest strength – our diversity,” said President and CEO Vanita Gupta. 

The School Superintendents Association (AASA): “The pandemic has highlighted the impact of the economically and racially segregated school systems that exist across the country today more clearly than ever before. Legislation that will fund districts to come up with locally driven, ambitious, and achievable plans to increase diversity will enable school leaders to create and lead more equitable school districts,” said Daniel Domenech, Executive Director.

UnidosUS: “UnidosUS believes that every student, no matter their unique background or circumstance, should have access to a high-quality education that sets them on a path to college or career success. This means closing race-ethnic academic opportunity gaps that may grow wider if we do nothing to respond in the current crises. One important step we can take is enacting the Strength in Diversity Act. This legislation promotes diversity among the school leaders and professionals that educate our children and brings diverse life experiences to the classroom in a way that enhances learning for all American children,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS.

Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation: “Since the inception of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) in St. Louis over 40 years ago, VICC has demonstrated that school integration benefits all children and our entire society. Our voluntary integration program has allowed over 70,000 children to be educated in a diverse environment, improved graduation rates in our community, and has had an intergenerational impact - some students that are currently enrolled are second-generation or third-generation VICC participants. Opportunities for more funding and support and for voluntary integration programs like VICC will allow us to serve more families, and give more communities and jurisdictions another way to seek educational equity and diversity,” said David Glaser, Chief Executive Officer.



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