New 'Invest in Equality' Initiative Focuses on Education Reform
Feature Story by David J. Goldberg - 5/17/2004Appearing in Topeka, Kan., for the state's official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) announced "Invest in Equality," a sweeping new initiative on education reform.
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius invited Henderson, along with Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., and several national civil rights leaders, to participate in the event. Henderson recognized the historic importance of the Brown anniversary and urged the nation to recommit to the promise of Brown in order to finish the job of ensuring that all children have the opportunity for a quality education.
"The 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education is a reminder of our duty to strive for equal educational opportunity for every child in America," Henderson said. "Brown declared that all children have a right to equal education. But the numbers tell a chilling story of unequal opportunity and lack of quality."
Henderson introduced Senator Kerry, who warned against rollbacks to equal educational opportunity.
``We should not delude ourselves into thinking for an instant that because Brown represents the law, we have achieved our goal -- that the work of Brown is done when there are those who still seek, in different ways, to see it undone -- to roll back affirmative action, to restrict equal rights, to undermine the promise of our Constitution," Senator Kerry said.
Issuing a call to action for the nation, Henderson unveiled LCCR's Invest in Equality initiative, which has the backing of a wide array of civil rights and education groups. The initiative was developed by LCCR and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund the organization led by Thurgood Marshall that litigated the Brown cases represented at the commemoration by Elaine Jones, its former president and director-counsel.
Also present at the event and endorsing the Invest in Equality 12-point program were Janet Murguia, executive director of the National Council of La Raza; Patrisha Wright, director of government affairs for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; and Karen K. Narasaki, president and executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.
The initiative includes a three-pronged attack on the poor state of public education: investing in public school programs that are known to improve student performance; investing in low-income communities to break the cycle of poverty, poor education, and racial isolation; and keeping the focus on education, rather than distracting public attention and resources away from improving public schools for all students.
For education programs, the Invest in Equality plan focuses on ensuring that every school has the resources to provide a quality education, including the funding to hire, train, and retain qualified teachers for every subject, especially math and science, and to build modern school facilities that include state-of-the-art technology.
The initiative also supports making advanced classes and intensive academic after-school programs available to all students, giving them both the challenge and the opportunity to meet high expectations.
In communities, Invest in Equality calls for programs that support parent and community involvement in schools, including social services assistance for families and health and nutrition programs for children. The initiative also seeks housing and lending policies that promote home ownership and build capital in low-income communities; and seeks to promote diversity in neighborhoods and the design of school districts.
To keep the focus on programs that improve education, Invest in Equality calls for full funding of No Child Left Behind, and using the law to increase funding for schools that are under-performing, rather than punishing them by taking away funds. Similarly, the initiative supports testing as a diagnostic tool to determine where students and schools need help, not as a means of punishing students.
The initiative also points out the effect vouchers have to increase segregation and divert funding from public schools, and their history of being used as a means to prevent school integration in the South after the Brown decision.