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Education Expands to Include Incarceration

Posted on 06/20/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Photo Credit: Youth Justice Coalition

By: Michael Hidalgo, LULAC National Programs Intern

We live in a country where we like to think that with the right amount of hard work, anyone can get ahead. Unfortunately, just as policies enacted before the rulings of Brown v. Board of Education and Mendez v. Westminster prevented minorities from acquiring a fair and quality education, policies in today’s schools continue to push minority students out of schools and directly into prisons.

The lack of funding in today’s school systems has forced our educators to revert to the ineffective discipline policies that were deemed harmful to our youth in the 1990s, one of these being zero-tolerance policies. While these policies were effective at reducing drug use and school violence rates, they were later eliminated as more modern discipline reform policies focused educators on rehabilitative approaches, intending to give at-risk students the resources they lacked and the opportunities they needed to succeed.

Unfortunately, the school administrators and educators of today have reverted to these aggressive discipline policies in the name of school safety. These policies often go as far as replacing hall monitors with police officers who monitor students like prison guards, fencing in school property, installing metal detectors, and reinstating zero-tolerance policies. Schools have zero-tolerance policies against violence, smoking, classroom disruption, public display of affection, and disrespecting security guards. In many instances, these policies provide little to no opportunity for school administrators to use their own judgment when evaluating and addressing student discipline infractions. Under zero-tolerance policies, the charge for carrying cough syrup could face the same consequences as carrying cocaine.

Today, those students most in need of assistance and attention are often the ones experiencing the damaging effects of zero-tolerance policies. Minorities in particular are being deprived of fair discipline methods in schools across the country. Black students are suspended four times more than whites, but worse than the rate of racially biased suspensions,only 5% of all school suspensions were for serious offences in 2012. Countless students are losing valuable education time by being disciplined for minor offences.

Effective discipline methods must encourage personal growth and promote graduation. Racial discrepancies in enforcement have resulted in Black and Latino students being twice as likely not to graduate and much more likely to fill future jail cells.

Education needs to be equipped to handle distressed and disadvantaged youth and attack the reasons they act out. In my personal experience, I have volunteered with many students who have major family issues whose school behavior had put them in the criminal justice system. Instead of defaulting to the justice system, we should be looking into more creative, community-based solutions to rehabilitate our youth, not locking them away and throwing away the key.

As a Criminology, Law, and Society student, I recognize that the justice system is not always the best system for handling distress. Unfortunately, it is not designed to deal with the underlying causes of crime, but only able to dole out punishment. Studying the justice system is often discouraging as you learn that poor investment in our youth results in equally poor opportunities for their future. My experience with troubled youth has taught me that investing in our youth, and providing them with support from an early age translates into increased opportunities and fewer discipline problems in the future.

Latino youth are resilient, and LULAC is dedicated to ensuring our youth do not fall victim to the school to prison pipeline. Our programs across the country are dedicated to encouraging at-risk youth to take initiative and become engaged with their schools and communities. Programs like our Ford Driving Dreams Through Education Program bring mentors, tutoring, and other services to our youth to ensure success in school. Another program, Adelante America, brings leadership opportunities to at-risk youth, motivating and encouraging them to be positive advocates of the community.

Empowering youth with the tools to overcome personal obstacles in a healthy way provides them with a means to take ownership of their life and their choices, reducing the likelihood of discipline problems in school. By combining early intervention and more rehabilitative discipline methods, we can put our youth on the path to success, and permanently disrupt the school to prison pipeline.

Michael Hidalgo is a National Programs Intern at LULAC National. He studies Criminology, Law, and Society at University of California Irvine and graduates in June 2015.

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Senate Education Bill In Need of Critical Changes, Current Version Fails to Address Concerns of LULAC and Civil Rights Community

Posted on 06/18/2015 @ 12:45 AM

By: Luis Torres, Director of Policy and Legislation, LULAC National

As part of its legislative work this summer, the full Senate is expected to consider legislation to revamp the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), possibly as early as this week.

Proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Patty Murray (WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions respectively; the current ESEA rewrite, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA), does not reflect the strong civil rights foundation of ESEA. Without this strong foundation, this bill cannot become law.

ESEA is a civil rights law that has been the nation’s greatest driver of greater equity in education.

Since its passage in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, ESEA has been our nation’s driving force for educational equity. It was LULAC’s early advocacy role in the Mendez v. Westminster case that helped desegregate California schools that served as the precedent for the Brown decision, and LULAC continues to dedicate itself to ensuring educational equity for all students in America. For students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, English Language learners, and low-income students—a strong ESEA is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligations to provide a quality education to all on an equal basis—not just for the most privileged or wealthy.

The current Senate ESEA bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, betrays the law’s rich legacy and would weaken protections for the students it’s intended to serve.

The Every Child Achieves Act certainly makes progress on the abhorrent proposal in the House (H.R. 5), but in its current state, it fails to live up to its promise as a civil rights law.

The Every Child Achieves Act CAN and SHOULD be improved on the Senate floor with four fixes.

LULAC, along with other civil rights organizations, is working to add language to the current version of the ESEA that will expand opportunities, resources, and outcomes for all students.

• ESEA must require that states intervene when vulnerable students fall behind.

The current version of the ECAA allow schools and districts to skirt their responsibility to close the massive gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color, students with disabilities, Native students, low-income students, and English Language learners. Solving this educational crisis should be America’s number one priority to ensure a strong and vibrant future. Allowing schools to avoid responsibility for properly educating all students is effectively gutting the civil rights foundation of the ESEA and undermining the law’s very purpose. LULAC is requesting that language be added to the current bill that would require states to intervene should subgroups of students like Latinos, African Americans, students with disabilities, and others, fall behind for two consecutive years. Because the high school drop-out rates are much higher for many of these subgroups, we are also requesting language in ESEA that would focus attention and resources on schools with high drop-out rates.

• ESEA must provide the transparency and disaggregated data that families and communities need in order to advocate for their children.

Without the necessary language, this proposal denies parents and advocates of the knowledge of how these subgroups are faring in schools. In addition, the bill fails to adapt to the diversity of our nation’s children by lumping all Asian-American students together, ignoring the diversity of experiences and cultural backgrounds of one of the nation’s largest subgroups.

• ESEA must require that states intervene to correct the massive resource disparities that plague our nation’s schools.

Districts that predominately serve students of color receive approximately $1,200 less per student than districts that predominately serve white students. This translates to substandard educational facilities, underqualified teachers using old textbooks, and outdated technology. Many states have even under-resourced these schools and districts in defiance of their own state courts and constitutions. The current version of ESEA doesn’t do enough to correct these disparities.

• There must be proper oversight from the U.S. Department of Education to make sure that federal funds are used to protect vulnerable students.

The current proposal strips the U.S. Department of Education of its authority to hold states and districts accountable for the federal money they receive. Without federal oversight, there will be no accountability in making sure that federal funds serve the students that need it the most.

LULAC opposes the current version of the Every Child Achieves Act and believes that without these four fixes, this bill cannot become law.

Without the necessary language that protects vulnerable students, this reauthorization would be a betrayal of ESEA’s legacy as a civil rights education bill, and it will be opposed by a large contingency of major civil rights and disability rights organization. Ensuring a strong ESEA is LULAC’s number one priority, and our organization will not accept any reauthorization that attempts to turn back the clock on 50 years of progress.

Read previous LULAC National letters related to the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015:

LULAC joined several civil rights groups in sending letters to the Senate HELP Committee urging their support for these critical issues:

6/10/15- LULAC pens letter to U.S. Senate highlighting four major fixes that must be incorporated to the current version of the Every Child Achieves Act. This fixes include, adding language addressing subgroup accountability, resource equity, data disaggregation, and the federal role. Read the letter here.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter opposing private school vouchers in the Every Child Achieves Act to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate HELP committee. Click here to view the letter.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter in support of reforming the Every Child Achieves Act to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate HELP committee. Click here to view the letter.

4/13/15- LULAC joined other organizations in sending letter in support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate HELP Committee. Click here to view the letter.

2/2/2015: LULAC joined MALDEF, SEARAC, and other civil rights groups in sending coalition letter to Senate HELP Committee detailing priorities and principles for the reauthorization of ESEA. Read the letter here.

1/29/2015: LULAC signed on to civil rights education coalition letter to Senate HELP Committee detailing priorities and principles for the reauthorization of ESEA. Read the letter here.

1/12/2015: As Co-Chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition, LULAC sent a letter to U.S. Senate HELP Committee outlining priorities for the upcoming ESEA Reauthorization. Read the letter here

Luis Torres is the Director of Policy and Legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens. Prior to LULAC, he served as Legislative Director for Congressman Silvestre Reyes, former-Chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and was one of a handful of Latino Legislative Directors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, Torres also served as a high school teacher in Washington, D.C. as part of Teach for America. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology from Georgetown University, and a Master of Arts in Teaching from American University.

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