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Equity & Diversity

Education Tops List of Ongoing Civil Rights Priorities, Commission Survey Indicates

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 10, 2018 2 min read
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A new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights indicates that education is the top ongoing civil rights priority for many of those on the group’s state advisory commissions.

A survey that heard from just over a quarter of the state commission members found that education is “the topic of highest importance” and should be prioritized in the next year, among continuing issues such as housing, criminal justice, and health care. And emerging civil rights topics in education that respondents highlighted include equity, racial disparities in school discipline, and teacher shortages.

Civil rights in education has been a major area of recent political conflict. The Obama administration’s initiatives involving transgender students and school discipline have come under fire since President Donald Trump took office; Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has rescinded the former and is considering revoking the latter. DeVos has also changed how the U.S. Department of Education conducts civil rights probes. If Democrats take control of the House next year, DeVos’ handling of civil rights will be a top area for oversight in education.

The report was sent to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan last Friday.

“These survey results reflect the considered judgment of experts across the country regarding critical civil rights issues affecting Americans,” wrote Catherine Lhamon, the commission’s chairwoman.

The commission is an independent agency tasked with evaluating and informing civil rights policy, and with enhancing the enforcement of civil rights law.

Education was ranked first on a list of priorities originally identified in 2010 by the advisory commissions. These are made up of appointed and unpaid government employees and assist the U.S. commission with investigations. They’re present in each state and the District of Columbia. (The report says these state commission members are the national commission’s “eyes and ears.”) Here’s how education stacked up:

However, when asked to identify “emerging” topics that the commission should focus on in the next five years, education was ranked third, behind criminal justice and voting:

It’s important to note that while the U.S. commission’s survey was sent to 660 state advisory group members, only 160 provided complete responses. There were also 105 partial responses.

Lhamon, the former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, has been a vocal critic of how the department has handled civil rights during the Trump administration.

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