Inequality in Schools

ON May 1, Texas voters rejected, by almost 2 to 1, a proposition, submitted by the state legislature under pressure from the state Supreme Court. The turnout was very low. If passed, the initiative would have required more equitable distribution of state education funds.

Before the landmark 1954 school segregation ruling of the United States Supreme Court, Southern school officials claimed that black and white schools were "separate but equal."

The truth was that, almost without exception, they were separate but unequal, with black students carrying the burden of inequality. Now educational inequality is the product of disparity in wealth, not race.

Texas is in the spotlight now, but at one point some 42 states were under pressure to substantially narrow the funding gap between local schools in affluent communities. Those in poor areas in 25 states still haven't solved the problem.

The Texas Supreme Court has given the legislature until June 1 to come up with another plan to meet the demand for a greater measure of educational opportunity for students in the state's poorer school systems.

As documented in a recent Monitor article, similar situations dot America's education landscape. Recourse to the federal court system, which was the instrument for outlawing racial segregation in public schools, is not available to address the current issue. Although the US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional, it ruled in 1973 that the Constitution does not recognize a right to uniformity in the quality of public education.

This leaves the field to the conscience and good sense of citizens in the affected states.

One lesson learned in the school desegregation controversy is that the whole nation suffers if one segment or another is deprived.

The same sort of tolerance and generosity have to be demonstrated in solving the present educational challenge.

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