The DeVos education budget – ‘choice’ or segregation?

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Poverty & Race Research Action Council

The American public education system should provide an equal opportunity for all students to receive a quality rigorous education – regardless of class, race or ethnicity. In direct opposition to this goal, the Fiscal Year 2018 education budget recommendations from the Trump Administration show an effort to limit opportunities, support, and civil rights protections for students throughout the country.

The proposed Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success – known as FOCUS – a new Title I program, is a thinly veiled attempt to open the door for the voucherization of all federal, state and local public schools funds. This push to funnel public money to private schools to “improve student academic performance” fails to learn from the lessons of the past.

Districts throughout the country have attempted voucherization, resulting in overwhelmingly negative academic outcomes and the promotion of segregation. The District of Columbia and Louisiana implemented district wide voucher programs to help save poor performing school districts. Evaluations of student performance in both cities showed a negative impact on student achievement. Students who participated in the Louisiana voucher program exhibited steep declines in math performance compared to students who remained in traditional public schools, performing 13 percent lower on average after two years in the voucher schools.

Why would we voluntarily expand a program that has proven to have the opposite effect of what we would like to achieve?

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council, like other members of the National Coalition on School Diversity, is not opposed to expanding the range of opportunities available to students and their families. In fact, our research advocacy efforts are centered around the thoughtful, responsible expansion of public school choice approaches that help to bring children together in racial and economically integrated schools.

The Magnet School Assistance Program, for instance, builds off of decades of research, which shows the magnet school approach conveys significant benefits to all students. The integration effort in Louisville, Kentucky, provides a real-world example of how school choice programs centered around integration can have positive impacts on student outcomes.

If enacted, a pseudo-voucher program such as FOCUS would all but guarantee a less equitable school funding framework, paving the way for the continued defunding of the low performing schools and intensifying racial and economic segregation in those same schools. According to research from The Century Foundation, private school vouchers present a threat to integrated schools, in some cases opening the door for White and middle-class flight, in an echo of the segregation academies of the 60s and 70s.

If we are serious about improving academic achievement for all students, we need to support and fund the programs and policies that have proven to work. The research on the benefits of integrated schools clearly shows that in addition to helping to close the achievement gap, all students in integrated schools are more likely to be prepared for a global economy, have improved civic attitudes towards democratic participation, increased participation in community activities and show enhanced critical thinking and

problem solving skills.

Yet, as we seek to prepare our students to compete on a global stage, the Trump administration proposes to divert support from programs that have proven to benefit students’ life outcomes to fund programs that have shown to cause academic harm. But it does not stop there.

The already short-staffed Office of Civil Rights is on the line for considerable cuts in funding and staff positions. At a time when the complaint levels are near historic highs with a record number of complaints year after year, this budget will cripple the already understaffed office charged with protecting the civil rights of all students.

Providing all of our nation’s children with a high-quality education should always be a top priority. We have not yet achieved that goal, however; it is a struggle we must win. We can never stop working to make sure that all children have an opportunity to learn and pursue their American Dream.

This proposed budget will close the doors of opportunity to hundreds of thousands of young minds around the country. We urge Congress to reject this attack on equal access to a quality public education, students’ civil rights, and ultimately, our country’s long-term ability to continue as a global leader.

Kimberly Hall is the communications and partnerships manager and Michael Hilton is policy counsel at The Poverty & Race Research Council.

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