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House passes two bills aimed at equity in education

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed two bills aimed at ensuring equity in education – the Strength in Diversity Act, approved Tuesday by a margin of 248-167, offers support to school districts developing, implementing or expanding school diversity initiatives, and the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act (EIEA), approved Wednesday by a margin of 232-188, aims to hold federally-funded programs, including schools, accountable for their responsibility to provide all students with equal opportunity in education.

“As the proud product of Alabama’s public schools and the state’s first Black Congresswoman, I am profoundly aware of the equalizing power of a good education,” Sewell said in a press release Wednesday. “Segregation and discrimination in public schools robbed generations before me of academic and economic opportunity, the long-term effects of which are still evident in our most vulnerable communities.”

For her part, Sewell said work still needs to be done in U.S. classrooms to ensure that all students are provided a quality education.

“While we have seen many strides forward in the 66 years since Brown v. Board of Education, the remnants of discrimination and inequality can still be seen today in school districts across the country, including the Black Belt,” Sewell said. “No child’s education should be relegated by race or income lines in America, but it has unfortunately been the reality for generations of students. The time is now to provide the long overdue equality and justice all children deserve to grow up with.”

Sewell noted that the legislation “directly confronts injustice” in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, where schools in the majority-Black Birmingham City School system receive $5,000 less per pupil than neighboring school district with lower poverty rates  “due to school funding policies enacted over a century ago.”

The Strength in Diversity Act establishes a grant program to provide federal funding to support voluntary, local efforts to increase diversity in schools; supports the development and maintenance of best practices for grantees and experts in the field of school diversity; and makes grant funding available to school districts, independently or in collaboration with neighboring districts, as well as regional educational authorities and service agencies.

The EIEA restores the private right to action for students and parents to bring disparate impact claims under the Civil Rights Act; creates monitors to ensure every school district and institutions of higher education has at least one employee specifically responsible got investigating complaints of discrimination based on race, color or national origin; and creates as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Education to coordinate and promote equity enforcement in education.