House Passes Legislation Aimed at Increasing Diversity in Schools

September 16, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Carle Place High School in Long Island, New York. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Today, the House of Representatives passed the Strength in Diversity Act 2020, legislation that will provide funding for voluntary desegregation initiatives across the country. The Strength in Diversity Act was brought to the House by Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and authored by Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor. 

“More than 66 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, America has yet to fulfill the promise of equity in education. Schools are still segregated along racial and economic lines, hurting all students, but especially students of color and students from low-income communities. Segregated schools are under-resourced and over-disciplined, and students who attend them face life-long disparities in academic success and earnings potential,” Fudge said in a statement.

Fudge continued further by stating, “By integrating our schools, we can not only ensure access to opportunity, regardless of race and economic status, but also reduce racial prejudice and strengthen our common bonds.” 

In his remarks on the House floor debate of H.R. 2639, Scott stated that the act will help provide, “federal support to help school districts develop, implement, or expand efforts to integrate their local schools. The legislation will also shield these resources from the whims of changing administrations and allow communities to compile best practices for tackling segregation.” 

According to a Government Accountability Office report on segregation in schools, the share of K-12 schools that had high percentages of Black or Hispanic students rose from 9% in 2000 to 16% in 2013. 

The same report also found that when compared to other schools, these particular K-12 schools, “offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled.” 

Scott continued further in his floor remarks by stating, “Addressing America’s legacy of racial discrimination is often uncomfortable and complicated. However, we must confront – not ignore – inequities in education if we are to reckon with this legacy and overcome a global pandemic that threatens to worsen achievement gaps.” 

The Strength in Diversity Act further brings equity to education by the establishment of a grant program that supports local efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in schools and school districts. 

Local efforts outlined under the act’s provisions include conducting studies on segregation, evaluating current policies and creating evidence-based plans to address socioeconomic and racial isolation in school districts. 

Additionally, the act allows for the creation of public school choice zones, as well as revisions to be made on school district boundaries and transportation routes for students. 

Grants can also be used to recruit, hire and train teachers and administrators to support schools that undergo structural changes as a result of the legislation. 

Grant funding can be given to school districts and educational agencies who voluntarily elect to make systematic changes according to their outlined proposals given to the Secretary of Education. 

Funding will last for five years once awarded. After being given approval for funding, those entities that receive a grant from the Department of Education have to submit annual reports detailing the progress made on their proposed inclusivity plans as well as a description on their overall efforts made with the funds. 

The Strength in Diversity Act has been endorsed by a number of education and civil rights organizations including but not limited to the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Education Association.

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 of the American Federation of Teachers. 

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