Politics & Policy

‘We are extremely discouraged’: Reports of a federal fight on affirmative action already stoking anxiety

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Organizations aimed at helping more black, Hispanic, and poor students get to college are already worried about reports that the Trump administration plans to fight college affirmative action programs.

According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, an office of the Justice Department is looking to investigate and sue colleges and universities whose policies they believe discriminate against white students. Both the Justice Department and Department of Education have yet to comment.

If such investigations begin, Anthony Davis Jr. of the NAACP’s youth and college division said that they could scare some schools away from enforcing affirmative action in their admissions policies and discourage students of color from applying to schools, too.

“We are extremely discouraged by this news coming from the Justice Department,” Davis said. “It shows a lack of support for the African American community,” he added.

The director of KIPP New York City’s Through College program, Jane Dowling, is worried the move will “perpetuate the notion of a student of color or low-income kid getting into college without being qualified.”

“That [perception] is one of the things that these college students struggle with the most,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

Critics of affirmative action include the head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, as ProPublica has reported. Multiple lawsuits have accused schools of discriminating against Asian-American students using the policy, too.

Dowling noted that other specific admissions policies, like ones that favor children of alumni and athletes, disproportionately help white and affluent students — a point other advocates echoed.

“We would all like to live in a world where affirmative action was not necessary, but unfortunately we do have to live in a world where there is systemic racism, where there is unequal access to quality education, and where African American and Latino students are overrepresented in communities of poverty,” said Rhea Wong, the executive director of Breakthrough New York, which provides educational support to low-income students.

seizing the moment

On first day for most Denver schools, gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston calls for better school funding

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston sent his son Emmett back to school Monday — and sent a message to voters at the same time about one of his longtime causes.

On the first day of school for most Denver students, Johnston recorded a video of his son carting off two large cardboard boxes full of supplies. In the video posted to Twitter, the former state senator called it another example of how Colorado is shortchanging its public schools.  

“People often ask what does it mean to have cuts to the statewide budget to education,” he said.  “Well it means a lot of those bills get passed on to parents and to kids who have to bring their own paper towels, their own wipes, their own crayons, their own boxes.”

Johnston, a national figure in the education reform movement, led an unsuccessful push to increase taxes for schools in 2013.

“We count ourselves lucky,” Johnston said in the video, adding that knows many families in Denver often feel the pinch of buying new school supplies and fees. “We think the state has an obligation to do better.”

Though the governor’s race is in its early stages, back-to-school season is a logical time for candidates to take out education positions. Earlier Monday, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is also running, released an online ad spotlighting his pledge to expand full-day kindergarten and preschool.

sending a message

Memphis school board leader wants to declare that ‘all are welcome here’

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students display their career aspirations during a visit to the State Capitol in March to support an unsuccessful bill that would have extended in-state tuition to them.

A school board member wants Shelby County Schools to send a unified message to immigrant students and parents: “You are safe in our schools.”

Teresa Jones will ask the board Tuesday to officially go on the record about protections for undocumented students in the wake of this summer’s federal immigration arrests in Memphis by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“There are speculations among parents of, ‘Should I send my child to school?’” she said Monday about the impetus for her proposal. “I want the board to take a formal stand.” 

The resolution backs up the district’s current policy of protecting student privacy and restricting the release of confidential information about immigration status to immigration enforcement agencies.

It also asks the superintendent to elevate partnerships with community-based organizations aimed at supporting families impacted by immigration raids.

If the resolution is approved, Shelby County’s school board would join elected school officials across the nation who have spoken out about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people who have entered the United States illegally. Last fall after Trump’s election, Nashville school board members took a similar stand.

Memphis school officials sought to assure parents of the district’s policy earlier this month when the new school year opened.

Shelby County is now home to approximately 57,000 Hispanics, and 14 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic.

Teresa Jones

The resolution by Jones, who is an attorney, cites the 1982 Texas court case Plyler v. Doe, which established that a public school district cannot deny children access to education based on their immigration status.

She said a school board vote would send a strong message to Shelby County and across the nation.

“An individual speaking is just opinion,” Jones said. “But when we have a resolution, that speaks for the entire board. It’s a different level of … commitment to our students.”

Kevin Woods, another board member, said he’ll back the position wholeheartedly.

It makes “a statement loud and clear to families of our immigrant population that they are welcome at our schools, we want them there and they are members of our communities,” he said.