This week, like millions of parents, I sent my children bouncing back to school with new backpacks for a new academic year. While many of us caregivers are scrambling to make sure our students have the right supplies (I forgot crayons!), clothes, and enough lunch money, we can’t lose focus on the disturbing social challenges that no pencil, pen, or notebook can prepare our students for. The progress Children’s Defense Fund and our partners have made to build racial and social equity in America’s schools is being erased at an alarming rate.
The Century Foundation reports that American schools are underfunded by $150 billion and the Education Trust has recently documented dramatic funding inequities in districts educating Black and Brown students. Meanwhile, state and federal lawmakers continue to introduce private school voucher proposals that harm those very children.
Discrimination in our classrooms is on the rise. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights received nearly 19,000 complaints citing discrimination in U.S. schools last fiscal year alone; a record, according to the New York Times.
Lest we forget, for the first time in almost six decades graduating high school seniors will apply for college without consideration of affirmative action to correct historic bias. As I said in June, the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify affirmative action policies in college admissions places even more obstacles ahead of Black and Brown young people pursuing their dreams.
These developments may feel like an irreversible sea change in the wrong direction. But together, we can achieve what may seem impossible.
This is a Sankofa moment. We must remember just how far we’ve come.
I was reminded of our progress as my sons and I joined thousands of people in Washington, D.C., Saturday for the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington. On the same steps of the Lincoln Memorial where A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dr. Dorothy Height gathered in 1963, the present-day crowd, including hundreds of college students and children, was eager to fight for justice and equity.
This year let’s take our passion into classrooms, school board meetings, town halls and community forums. Serve and advocate for positive change whenever you learn of an injustice impacting the education of children and youth. Whether we are educators, caregivers, family members, or neighbors, we each have a role in supporting the learning and development of children.
As we find inspiration in history, we are challenged to make progress for young people in the present.