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Stimulus Funds: Mind the Gap

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February 25, 2009

Now that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, a.k.a. the stimulus package) is a done deal, everyone's talking about what they're going to do with the money. Today we sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan about how we think he should spend the $100 billion for public schools. We're thrilled that $13 billion is set aside to help states close the achievement gap between students in poor and minority communities and their more fortunate counterparts.

Putting more money into under-resourced communities accomplishes two goals: the first set by President Obama during the campaign to level the educational playing field for all kids; the second to meet this country's treaty obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The last time the CERD committee reviewed the U.S.'s compliance to the treaty, the results were less than stellar. In fact, the committee found that racial segregation is alive and well in our public schools:

The Committee recommends that the State party undertake further studies to identify the underlying causes of de facto segregation and racial inequalities in education, with a view to elaborating effective strategies aimed at promoting school de-segregation and providing equal educational opportunity in integrated settings for all students. In this regard, the Committee recommends that the State party take all appropriate measures — including the enactment of legislation — to restore the possibility for school districts to voluntarily promote school integration through the use of carefully tailored special measures…

The U.S. will submit its next periodic report to the CERD committee in 2011.

As for leveling the playing field, we reminded Secretary Duncan of President Obama's remarks at his Howard University Convocation speech in September 2007:

It will take a movement to finish what began in Topeka, Kansas and Little Rock, Arkansas. It will take a movement of Americans from every city and town, of every race and background to stand up and say that no matter what you look like or where you come from, every child in America should have the opportunity to receive the best education this country has to offer. Every child.

In our letter, we also add that the incorporation of innovative human rights education programs would be great. Now that America's economy is a global economy, and good relations with other countries is more important than ever, there are few things more important than teaching today's kids about the human rights values this, and many other countries, share.

So while $100 billion is a lot of money, closing the achievement gap and implementing human rights programs in schools would be an incredibly sound investment in the future.

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