Supremes Still Working on School Equality, by Deneen Borelli

Even though public school segregation was outlawed over 50 years ago, there are still lingering questions about the constitutionality of racial preferences that the U.S. Supreme Court must decide.

Before the Court right now is a set of cases challenging to policies that limit enrollment choices because schools must meet government-mandated race-based admissions guidelines.

In some public school districts, achieving a proper racial balance overrules parents’ desire to choose the right school for their child. Instead of basing enrollment on need, quality and accessibility – as was envisioned in the Brown v. Board of Education decision – our government still allows an arbitrary racial mandate to guide the admissions process.

To those who treasure equal access and common sense, this is an outrage.

For example, in Seattle, when space is limited, which students can be enrolled in particular high schools is determined by racial preferences. Administrators want schools to have approximately 40 percent white students and 60 percent minority students in each school to reflect the city’s overall student body.

In Louisville, Kentucky, all government-run schools adhere to a racial formula that guarantees black students comprise between 15 percent and 50 percent of a school’s enrollment. Parents with children in elementary school are required to rank which schools they prefer. While most families get their first or second choices, what is deemed to be best for a child can be overruled to satisfy a school’s quota requirements.

In both jurisdictions, it results in some students – usually the white ones – traveling outside of their normal districts. Aggrieved parents believe that what was wrong half a century ago is still wrong today, so these two examples are the basis for the complaint currently before the High Court.

Oddly enough, these school districts defend their policies as necessary to carry on the spirit of racial diversity established by Brown. This logic is based on the notion that segregation created by economic or demographic patterns are just as harmful as those created by racism in the past. To bolster their case, some advocates of racial preferences claim that classroom diversity improves the educational outcome for minorities.

Not everyone agrees. In November, the federal U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report saying “there is little evidence that racial and ethnic diversity in elementary and secondary schools results in significant improvements in academic performance.” The report further noted that any benefits are “modest and inconsistent.” Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds further said: “In my view, the evidence suggests that these preferences do not provide significant academic benefits to minority children that would compensate for the moral costs of government’s use of racial classifications.”

In its previous term, before the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the Court passed on the chance to rule on a similar case involving Massachusetts schools. Stepping up this time to assess the constitutionality of the Louisville and Seattle policies, media assessments report that Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy – the Court’s “swing vote” since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor – showed no indication that he would side with his liberal colleagues to support maintaining these racial set-asides.

The Court, hopefully, will decide that preferential treatment based on race, like other characteristics such as ethnicity, sex or national origin, is unjust. It’s unfair for one group to be granted preferential treatment at the expense of others. Such treatment creates feelings of resentment and anger that can only breed racism towards minorities. In addition, using racial quotas is also unfair to minority students as well. Under certain circumstances, minority students will be denied enrollment because the school exceeded its minority limit.

Ultimately, racial quotas for school admissions provide no educational value. Parents should have the right to choose which school is right for their child based on their needs, the quality of the school system and other conveniences.

Race should never be the factor that decides who wins and who loses.

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Deneen Borelli is a Fellow with the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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