House Democrats on Thursday vowed to fight back against what they called the Trump administration’s moves to roll back progress on civil rights in education, and highlighted research that they said proves ongoing disparities in schools disproportionately harm students of color.
In a forum on Capitol Hill hosted by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the House education committee, Democratic leaders spoke about the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on its 64th anniversary. They also unveiled a resolution that calls for the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act by the U.S. Department of Education.
If the Trump administration continues on its current path, “The question will no longer be when we fulfill the promise of Brown, the question will be if we ever achieve the equity that it envisioned,” Scott said.
Civil rights enforcement one of the most controversial elements of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ record so far. She has reversed Obama administration guidance on transgender students, changed how civil rights investigations are handled, and is considering tossing overboard other Obama-era initiatives, such as 2014 guidance addressing racial disparities in school discipline. DeVos has said she wants to make federal civil rights enforcement in education fairer and more efficient. Her critics charge that she is willfully ignoring systemic and improper discrimination in many schools.
“From day one, the Trump administration has undermined civil rights protections in our schools, kicking out the ladders of opportunity from under our children,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at Scott’s forum. “We must combat that injustice and build a future where every child has the tools to learn and succeed in the 21st century.”
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina said he recalled exactly where he was when he heard about the Brown decision: “I feel very strongly that that  decision is what really launched the activities that brought me here as a member of the United States Congress.”
At the forum, researchers from the Government Accountability Office also presented their recent research on civil rights issues, such as a 2016 report on trends in the racial and economic composition of school enrollment.
“Many schools are resegregating,” said Jacqueline Nowicki, the director of education, workforce, and income security issues at the GAO.
In Ferguson, Mo., there were 211 days of instruction lost for every 100 black males, compared to 54 such days for their white counterparts, said Dan Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Discussing these and other statistical disparities revealed in the most recent Civil Rights Data Collection, Losen told the forum that, “They should shock our conscience.”
Democrats weren’t alone in highlighting the anniversary of Brown. While the forum was in progress, DeVos highlighted its impact on social media:
More than 60 years ago, a remarkable woman, Linda Brown, demonstrated courage beyond her years as she fought to end legal segregation in American schools. Today, we celebrate her and the right of every student, no matter their race, to access a quality education. #BrownvBoard
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) May 17, 2018
And Wednesday on the House floor, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., praised the plaintiffs in the Brown case and their success in bringing about an end to the “abhorrent segregationist policy of separate but equal education.”
“As a result, millions of children were afforded the educational opportunities they deserved and their rightful shot at a successful life,” Foxx said.
Photo: Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina speaks at an event hosted by Rep. Bobby Scott, R-Va., left, about the 64th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Andrew Ujifusa/Education Week)