In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced this bill to promote diversity in schools by creating a federal grant program to support voluntary, community-driven strategies to increase diversity in schools:
“The Strength in Diversity Act will help promote the desegregation of, and elimination of racial and socioeconomic isolation in, all of our nation’s schools. The bill enables school districts and communities to invest in inclusive public education by supporting effective solutions enforcing the spirit and letter of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. I am proud to again sponsor the Strength in Diversity Act in the House to ensure the Department of Education enhances six decades of American progress since Brown and halts the resurgence of segregated schools, programs and classrooms.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), sponsor of this bill’s Senate companion, adds:
“The federal government needs to be doing more to support local efforts to make education a more diverse and inclusive experience. Far too often, for reasons of legacy or policy, students of color or in low-income communities are shut out of the opportunity to get a good education. As years of research have shown us, school integration benefits students and communities. Our bill will help in this effort by providing grants to school districts that want to increase diversity in schools.”
The National Coalition on School Diversity Steering Committee is among a number of education advocacy groups that supports this bill. Philip Tegeler, a member of the Coalition, says:
“This bill recognizes that school segregation in the 21st Century is about both racial and economic isolation. More often than not, segregation happens across school district lines. This is precisely the kind of funding support that innovative local school districts need to address segregation – and it will encourage districts to work together to craft new approaches to address racial and economic isolation.”
Despite supporting this bill, some proponents of school desegregation acknowledge that this legislation has significant shortcomings, mostly owing to the fact that it’s limited only to communities that choose to participate in the program. However, Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California - Los Angeles, says, “This is a glass of water in a desert of policy in this area. This is not a bill that’s going to change the world, but it could change the discussion.”
House Committee on Education and Labor Committee Republicans, who opposed this bill’s passage out of committee, called this legislation’s approach “a way sure to add to the federal government’s long list of broken promises” with regard to better integrating schools. In their minority views report, the Republicans contended the Rep. Rick Allen’s (R-GA) substitute amendment to this legislation, which would have expanded the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) in the Every Student Succeeds Act to allow school districts to use funds to reduce or eliminate racial or socioeconomic isolation in schools, offered a better approach to giving school districts federal funds for school diversity efforts. Committee Republicans concluded:
“While there is significant alignment between Committee Democrats’ and Committee Republicans’ goals with respect to H.R. 2639, Committee Republicans also believe expanding opportunities for students should be a priority. School choice gives families the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and enroll their children in challenging environments that better develops their skills and intellects, encouraging them to reach higher… As outlined in these Minority Views, H.R. 2639 is a lost opportunity. Bipartisan compromise was possible to advance the shared goals of addressing the effects of racial and socioeconomic isolation in education. Unfortunately, Committee Democrats chose a partisan path. Additionally, Committee Republicans believe no effort to erase the evil legacy of segregation and discrimination can be complete without eliminating the state's ability to trap students in low-performing schools. We invite Democrats to listen to parents desperate for better educational options for their children.”
This bill passed the House Committee on Education and Labor by a 26-20 vote with the support of 105 Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion (S.1418), sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), has six Senate cosponsors, including five Democrats and one Independent, and has yet to receive a committee vote.
Numerous educational, racial justice, and teachers’ advocacy organizations support this bill. They include the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP-LDF), and National Education Association (NEA).
Of Note: In a 2018 research brief, the National Coalition on School Diversity made the case that diversity strengthens schools and prepares youth to thrive in multicultural societies of the future. Among its findings, the NCSD report found that giving youth from different racial and ethnic backgrounds opportunities to have “sustained contact with each other” and establish cross-racial friendships are important elements of bringing youth together across racial and ethnic lines.
The Obama administration, particularly former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., placed a high value on the importance of diversity. Towards the end of the Obama presidency, the administration introduced a $12 million grant program to boost diversity in schools. However, before it was able to get off the ground, that program was pulled by Trump administration Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos has also rescinded Obama-era guidance highlighting ways for schools to promote racial diversity.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: Unsplash / CDC