Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


How Biden’s Revival of Obama Housing Rules Connects to Divisive Issues in Schools

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 02, 2021 5 min read
Illustration of house and gavel.

What does a shift in rules for fair housing practices say about the Biden administration’s approach to controversial education issues?

Moves by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring back Obama administration rules provides insight into how the Biden administration will likely approach key K-12 issues, including guidance about racial disparities in school discipline. It’s also connected to broader debates about segregation in education.

And the move underscores how little certainty teachers as well as state and local education officials have about the federal policy and regulatory front beyond a few years.

Here’s the backstory: In 2013, the Obama administration introduced a rule under the Fair Housing Act that effectively made it easier for plaintiffs to seek legal redress for discriminatory housing practices, regardless of whether the intent of certain practices was intentionally discriminatory. This focuses on the “disparate impact” of policies on different groups, regardless of the motivation behind them.

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized its own rule about disparate impact in housing policy that departed significantly from the 2013 rule by shifting more of the legal burden back onto plaintiffs. (A judge’s subsequent ruling blocked the Trump rule from taking effect.)

That shift came amid former President Donald Trump’s big push to win suburban voters, who he said would be harmed by then-candidate Joe Biden’s support for high-density housing.

As we reported last year, Trump’s rhetoric that Biden would destroy the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” was met with outrage from those who said his rhetoric was rooted in race and class prejudices that damaged education for students of color. Alongside that sentiment was skepticism that some who declared opposition to Trump’s position would support greater racial integration in their own neighborhoods and schools.

Now the Biden administration has proposed bringing back the 2013 Obama rule. “Facially neutral practices that have an unjustified discriminatory effect on the basis of a protected characteristic, regardless of intent, violate the [Fair Housing Act],” the Department of House and Urban Development wrote last last month in background material explaining its move to recodify the rule from eight years ago.

Biden’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, by the way, was a champion of school integration policies when she served as an Democratic congresswoman from Ohio.

A separate Obama-era housing rule from 2015 is also making a comeback under Biden, although there the situation is less straightforward.

That 2015 rule required state and local governments to demonstrate how their policies were complying with HUD rules meant to break down residential barriers to fair housing access, among other information, in order to receive certain Housing and Urban Development grants. As one analysis put it, the rule did not mandate any outcomes or require governments to “amend their zoning laws or build affordable housing” or take other actions.

You likely won’t be surprised to read at this point that the Trump administration suspended and then scrapped Obama’s 2015 rule. “We found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most,” Ben Carson, Trump’s HUD Secretary, said in 2020 when he announced his decision to terminate the 2015 rule.

Although the Biden administration announced an interim final rule last month reviving Obama’s 2015 policy, the Washington Post noted that Biden’s rule would remove the Obama-era requirement for governments to submit plans to HUD explaining how they would address residential segregation.

Policy pendulums swing back and forth as schools watch and react

In housing, of course, racial discrimination has a long and ugly history with lasting consequences for the segregation of American schools. To the extent federal policy can affect housing, there are obviously downstream effects on the demographic makeup of schools that experts say are tied to patterns in K-12 funding and other issues. But there’s also a connection to other education policy decisions from the Biden administration.

The focus on “disparate impact” was at the heart of the Obama Education Department’s guidance intended to address racial disparities in school discipline policies, irrespective of any demonstrable bias or prejudice on the part of educators. It’s become one of the most contentious issues in education civil rights circles.

Following the Trump administration’s 2018 school safety report from the administration spurred by the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., that called for an end to that guidance, Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded it.

In early June, the Biden administration said it will revisit the issue of racial equity in school discipline. That could be a prelude to a revival of the Obama discipline guidance, something Biden pledged to do during his 2020 presidential campaign, although what precise form any such comeback would take remains to be seen.

Separately, the Biden administration announced in June that LGBTQ students are protected by federal anti-discrimination law, an issue where Trump took the opposite view.

“As numerous courts have recognized, a school’s policy or actions that treat gay, lesbian, or transgender students differently from other students may cause harm,” Biden’s Education Department notice said explaining its interpretation of the law.

Biden officials have also started a review of federal protections from sex discrimination for students. That review could lead to the reversal of a Trump administration rule finalized last year governing how schools must address sexual misconduct under Title IX.

As one expert on Title IX enforcement put it in an recent Education Week interview, school officials are “sort of a little punch drunk in a way” from how political shifts inside the Beltway have affected their work.

Many federal agencies beyond the Education Department and HUD have significant influence on K-12 education in ways that often don’t attract tons of attention.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP
Federal 'Stop CRT' Bill, Votes in Congress Add to Political Drama Over Critical Race Theory
Sen. Tom Cotton's legislation and votes about critical race theory in the House underscore the issue's potency in Washington.
5 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 25 in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Senators Grill Civil Rights Nominee on Transgender Students, Sexual Assault Investigations
If confirmed as assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine Lhamon will handle some of the Education Department's most sensitive issues.
6 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the education secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Biden Is Wrong About Transgender Student Rights, Group of Republican AGs Says
Gender identity is not covered by Title IX, attorneys general said in a letter that challenged the Biden administration's position.
3 min read
A person walks through a crowd with a large pink and blue transgender pride flag.
A transgender-rights supporter at the Gay Pride Festival in Atlanta in 2019.
Robin Rayne/AP