The U.S. Department of Education is, at its core, a civil rights agency, and through its Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring the “vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools." Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) requires the Department of Education to ensure that no program or activity funded by the Department, including programs and activities created under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, results in discrimination against any individual in the United States on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Furthermore, Title VI requires the Department to enforce the law in response to complaints.
Ultimately, the purpose and duty of the Department of Education is to effectuate and enforce civil rights protections and equal educational opportunities for all students, and to actively seek these ends through compliance reviews, policy guidance, data collection, and regulations. We believe all civil rights regulations and guidance documents issued by the Department of Education provide a clear framework that benefits all students when implemented by ensuring equal opportunities to learn regardless of a student’s protected status. While all the Department’s civil rights protections are important, we explicitly urge the Department to refrain from eliminating or otherwise altering the following regulatory protections: the Department’s longstanding Title VI disparate impact regulations, the diversity priorities in the Department’s competitive grant programs, and the Magnet Schools Assistance Program regulations.
Preserve the Title VI Disparate Impact Regulations:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent civil rights statutes charge the Department of Education with the responsibility to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, and sex, and authorize the Department to issue rules and guidance detailing how the law will be enforced as well as clarifying what types of discrimination are subject to federal action. Under Title VI, over two-dozen federal agencies, including the Department of Education, have issued regulations and guidance to effectuate its prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. The regulations and guidance issued under Title VI prohibit actions and policies that on their face treat individuals differently based on race, color, or national origin, as well as those actions and policies that have a discriminatory impact.
Preserve the Diversity Priority in Competitive Grant Programs:
For decades, public schools in the United States have trended toward increasing student isolation by both race and class. Last year the Government Accountability Office issued a report that found a significant increase in the educational isolation of Black and Latino students from low-income backgrounds from 2001 to 2014.
A vast body of research indicates that racially, culturally, and economically diverse schools supply both short- and long-term benefits for all students.6 Students in diverse schools perform better in the areas of math, science, reading, and critical thinking, and see improvements in graduation rates over segregated students. Furthermore, studies show that racially and economically diverse schools are better equipped than high-poverty schools to counteract the negative effects of poverty on student achievement. Research indicates that, over the long-term, students in diverse schools are more likely than students from segregated schools to attend diverse colleges, inhabit diverse neighborhoods, and choose diverse workplaces later in life. Students from diverse school settings also possess better critical thinking skills and analytical ability, and are more likely to form cross-racial friendships. Racial and economic diversity – both captured in the Department’s diversity priorities – have independent positive impacts on student short and long term outcomes.
The aforementioned benefits of racially and socioeconomically integrated schools are significant and far-reaching, and conversely, the damage wrought by increasing the isolation of students on our nation’s economy and social fabric is profound. In light of the trend of increasing segregation in our nation’s public schools and the benefits to all students of a diverse learning environment, we urge the Department to maintain the current supplemental priorities for discretionary grant programs focused on student diversity. Furthermore, given that a preponderance of studies indicate unstructured school choice programs generally result in increased student isolation by race and socioeconomic background, we also strongly encourage the Department to apply that priority to all existing and forthcoming grant competitions related to school choice.
Preserve the Emphasis on Integration in the Magnet Schools Assistance Program:
The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (“MSAP”) was originally developed to assist school districts operating under court-ordered or federally approved voluntary desegregation programs. The purpose of MSAP funds is to “assist in the desegregation of public schools by supporting the elimination, reduction, and prevention of minority group isolation in elementary and secondary schools with substantial numbers of minority group students.” The current structure of MSAP grant competitions adheres to the program’s purpose and places a significant emphasis on projects specifically designed to remedy racial and socioeconomic segregation, allotting 36 out of a possible 110 points to applications containing strategies to improve student diversity and implement equitable admissions policies.
Maintaining the regulations described above will ensure the preservation of tools schools and districts can use to foster student diversity, which ultimately benefits all students and our society as a whole.