WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an important report confirming that residential segregation continues to contribute to racial and socioeconomic segregation in our public schools. The GAO was asked to examine changes in student racial isolation or integration in schools over time and concluded that data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) shows that “race and poverty continue to be a driver for inequities in education.” Over time, there has been a large increase in schools that are the most isolated by poverty and race. Between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 school years, racial and socioeconomic isolation in K-12 public schools grew from nine percent to 16 percent, and students eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL) increased by 143 percent. The GAO therefore urges the better use of information to identify and address the disparities perpetuated by racially and socioeconomically isolated schools.
Over 60 years after the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Lawyers’ Committee continues to fight the negative impact of segregation on student achievement and life outcomes.
“The findings of this report are deeply disturbing, but come as no surprise,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We know that African-American and Hispanic students are attending schools which are increasingly segregated by both race and class. Moreover, we know that these changes in racial and socioeconomic isolation are closely associated with unequal access to educational resources and opportunities, as well as racially disproportionate school discipline practices. We urge our educators and administrators to fulfill the legacy of Brown by implementing proactive policies designed to further racial and socioeconomic integration.”
The Lawyers’ Committee continues to challenge racial segregation in both K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. The GAO report found that the U.S. Department of Justice does not always track open federal desegregation cases. The GAO cited one example of a case in which there had been a lack of activity but where relevant information would have allowed the school district to address disparities in a more timely way. Meanwhile, the Lawyers’ Committee and other advocates have closely monitored districts experiencing increased racial segregation in spite of open desegregation orders.
Partnering with the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights (CCR), the Lawyers’ Committee opposed the Pitt County School Board’s motion for unitary status in an open North Carolina desegregation case which had been inactive for nearly three decades. More recently, the Lawyers’ Committee successfully challenged the ongoing segregation at the four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Maryland. A remedial trial is scheduled in that case for January 2017.
“We are particularly concerned that Hispanic students, the largest minority group in K-12 public schools, tend to be ‘triply segregated’ by race, income and language,” said Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Moreover, the GAO confirms that among high-minority, high-poverty schools, there is a subset of schools with even higher percentages of poor and minority students and that the growth in those schools has been particularly dramatic. The civil rights implications are clear: we are undermining the success of some of our most vulnerable students.”
In order to combat this, the Lawyers’ Committee has partnered directly with communities and families in order to promote student achievement. The Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP) offers parents information about their child’s educational rights and options through both free in-person workshops and online resources, webinars, video tutorials and consultations.
There are clear detrimental effects of concentrated poverty and racial isolation on student learning and life outcomes. However, the GAO report concluded that in jurisdictions where education officials took steps to improve racial and socioeconomic integration, outcomes improved for all students. Armed with the analysis and recommendations outlined in the GAO report, the Lawyers’ Committee will continue to demand that low-income and minority students have access to more resourced, integrated learning environments and that policymakers implement the interventions available to mitigate the growing segregation within the nation’s schools.