U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. Statement on the Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

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U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. Statement on the Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

May 17, 2016

First, I appreciate Kristen Clarke joining us from the Lawyers’ Committee. The Lawyers’ Committee has been a long-time ally of the Department that works to advance civil rights.

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. With this decision, the Supreme Court made it clear that “separate and unequal” is unconstitutional.

We have made a lot of progress in providing educational equity and opportunity for all students. We have record graduation rates. The dropout rates for our African-American and Latino students have been cut dramatically, and more of them are going on to college than ever before. But we still have a long way to go.

Six decades after Brown v. Board, we have failed to close opportunity and achievement gaps for our African-American and Latino students at every level of education. And in far too many schools, we continue to offer them less—less access to the best teachers and the most challenging courses; less access to the services and supports that affluent students often take for granted, and less access to what it takes to succeed academically.

So we have urgent work to do as a country to truly provide equitable educational opportunities for all students. But we believe we stand better positioned to move forward, because of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As you know, ESSA reauthorized the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) signed by President Johnson in 1965. It was a civil rights law then, as it is now.

The law is intended to provide disadvantaged students with additional resources, over and above what they receive from their local schools. Our shorthand for talking about this is “supplement, not supplant.” That means federal Title I resources come on top of local resources, not replace them. This is critically important because – despite the end of “separate but equal” – 70 percent of all African-American or Latino children and 70 percent of low-income students attend Title I schools.

A landmark report by civil rights groups is actually what led to the supplement not supplant provision. The 1969 report, which was titled Title I of ESEA: Is It Helping Poor Children? revealed case after case of egregious misuse of Title I funds by states and districts. For example, the report described a superintendent in Quitman County, Mississippi,  testifying in federal court that “the highest per-pupil expenditure for black schools in his district was about half that of the lowest per-pupil expenditure in white schools and that Title I was going into black schools in an effort to equalize expenditures.”

Unfortunately, despite the long history of the “supplement not supplant” requirement, serious funding inequities remain – not just between districts – but withinthem. When federal resources are used to fill in shortfalls in state and local funding, it defeats the original purpose behind the provision.

It is both our responsibility and moral obligation to build on the civil rights legacy of ESEA and ensure Title I dollars are truly supplemental. Without meaningful enforcement, high-poverty, high-need schools lose resources to which they are entitled and generations of students lose opportunities they deserve.

The Department is working to address this concern while providing needed clarity that districts have requested about how to comply with the law’s requirement.

As you know, since we were unable to reach consensus on this topic in negotiated rulemaking, we’re still considering exactly how to move forward. But we start from what I think is a pretty simple assumption: if Title I schools are being systematically shortchanged before federal dollars arrive, then those dollars are not truly supplemental.

This is fundamentally about whether we are going to give the most vulnerable students the funds that were intended to support them, or whether we are going to continue to sell them short.

One of the federal government’s historic roles has been to protect our most vulnerable students. I take very seriously our obligation to ensure that the supplement, not supplant requirement is implemented in a way that does just that – protects the needs of students and teachers working in high poverty schools.