Civil Rights Groups Recognize the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by Drawing Attention to Racial Disparities in U.S. Education System

Education 09.23,13

By Tamera Willis, a Fall 2013 Intern

Though the U.S. Constitution was built on the ideals of equality and equal opportunity, the reality for low-income, minority American children navigating our education system is very different.

To address these issues, and in light of the upcoming 109th session of the Human Rights Committee in Geneva in October, The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s Human Rights Policy and Education Project submitted a report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewing the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Co-signed by other civil rights groups – including American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, The National Women’s Law Center, and The Poverty & Race Research Action Council – the report draws attention to the numerous outcome disparities for low-income minority children in the U.S. education system that have resulted in continued racial and socioeconomic segregation almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education.

The report advocates for the U.S. government to increase the federal role in public education to ensure that all students in America receive a quality education by calling attention to the grave disparities in educational attainment for minority students as a result of inequities in school funding of urban schools at the state and local level. For example, the report indicates that “high-poverty districts in Illinois spend only $8,707 per pupil, while low-poverty districts spend significantly more—$11,312 per pupil” and that the trend has been consistent across the nation for the past decade.

The report also discusses the disparities that exist between students of color and their White counterparts in the administration of school discipline policies, and even further, public schools failing to protect young girls and children identifying as LGBTQ from bullying. The nationwide presence of law enforcement officials in schools has increased from 54.1 to 69.8 percent between 1999 and 2011. Some schools have more security officers than guidance counselors. About half of all girls experience sexual harassment, and 81.9 percent of LGBTQ youth report having been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation.

Today is ICCPR National Action Day, organized by the U.S. Human Rights Network, and advocates are increasing awareness to urge the administration to take executive and legislative action to improve the U.S. record on implementation of the ICCPR. The Leadership Conference’s recommendations to the U.N. Human Rights Committee include: urging the U.S. government to use its authority to aggressively enforce provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) intended to reduce educational disparities,, address the systemic segregation of public schools as a result of resource inequity, and hold states accountable for student achievement. The report also urges the federal government to take further action to make schools safer for young girls and LGBTQ students through comprehensive anti-bullying initiatives.

“There remains an inconsistency between the ideals the nation professes and the reality of its practices,” President and CEO of The Leadership Conference Wade Henderson said in the forward to the report. “While it is true that U.S. laws and policies are comparatively advanced in protecting civil rights, the gap in U.S. law and policy as it relates to the protection of universal human rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is striking, especially in the areas of economic inequality, racial discrimination, and educational inequity.”