The 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education put an end to de jure – by law – racial segregation in U.S. public schools. Yet de facto – in fact – school segregation has remained a persistent feature of the education landscape. More troubling, research continues to demonstrate that the segregation of students by race and poverty in state public school systems is even more intense now than ever.

Advocates, scholars, lawyers, and policymakers have argued for decades over how to improve education resources, opportunities and outcomes for Black and Latino students and students in poverty consigned by state assignment policies to segregated school districts. Should we press states to provide equitable and adequate funding and resources in segregated schools? Or should we fight to integrate schools by race and socio-economic status? Equity or diversity?

In this year’s Education Justice Lecture hosted by Education Law Center, “Beyond Either/Or: The Constitutional Right to an Equitable and Diverse Public Education,” distinguished Professor John C. Brittain of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law offered a path for moving beyond the “great debate” over how to remedy the education disparities experienced by students in the nation’s segregated public schools. Speaking to an audience of over 200 on June 9, Professor Brittain presented a visionary roadmap to bridge the historic divide between education equity and school diversity.

Professor Brittain, who also serves as counsel in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill Connecticut school desegregation case, explained how the isolation of students in districts and schools by race and poverty correlates with severe and persistent disparities in education funding, resources and outcomes across the country.

Professor Brittain then proceeded to make a powerful case for moving beyond “either/or” to remediate these harms by calling for an expanded definition of the legal right to public education guaranteed by all 50 state constitutions. That expanded definition of a constitutional education imposes upon states the complementary obligation to provide students in segregated districts both equity and diversity. This means states must provide those students with the resources required to meet rigorous academic standards, while simultaneously providing the opportunity to be educated in schools and districts with diverse populations.

Rutgers Law School Professor Elise Boddie offered responding remarks to Professor Brittain’s proposal. Professor Boddie discussed the intense de facto segregation in New Jersey public schools and highlighted the crucial benefit of a diverse education. She also discussed the pending Latino Action Newark et al. v. New Jersey lawsuit, which could result in the nation’s first statewide order to desegregate the public schools.

Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District and Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor also offered responding remarks. Congressman Scott endorsed Professor Brittain’s expanded constitutional definition as a framework for federal policy to advance equity and diversity in the states’ K-12 public education systems. He then highlighted several proposals in Congress that are consistent with this broader approach.

Professor Janel George, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Racial Equity in Education Law and Policy Clinic at Georgetown Law School and an ELC Trustee, moderated the lecture and discussion.

ELC offers a heartfelt thank you to ETS and NJEA, perennial sponsors of the Education Justice Lecture, along with the many organizations, law firms, businesses and individuals whose contributions support ELC’s advocacy on behalf of the nation’s public school students.

An electronic copy of the event journal is available here. To make a tax-deductible contribution to ELC, please click here.

Professor John C. Brittain’s slide presentation is available here, and a recording of the lecture is available here.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 240

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240