In Blog: Factually Speaking

My father, a man of Norwegian descent who grew up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, was one of many beneficiaries of the GI bill. As part of the first generation in his family to attend college, with public financial support he excelled and launched a career as a professor of economics. The opportunity given to my father changed the trajectory of my parents’ lives and mine.

While ostensibly race-neutral, the G.I. Bill did not have the same effect on educational attainment for Black and White veterans after the war, in part because of admission policies that limited access to colleges and universities. As a result, a public policy that appeared to increase equality and opportunity actually did little to overcome consistent institutional barriers and inequities in access to education and housing for veterans of color.

The need for greater equity in educational opportunity is highlighted in the League’s recent publication—Race, Place & Policy Matter in Educationwhich was released in conjunction with the League’s October 10th forum that brought more than 400 concerned residents together in Lansing to discuss solutions to poverty and racial inequity in Michigan.

One lesson learned at the forum was that state and community leaders must openly and intentionally address the impact of public policies on racial inequities. While often used interchangeably, the terms racial equity and racial equality are not synonymous. To create equity in education in Michigan, we must move beyond policies that treat all students equally—despite their vastly differing circumstances—and provide the additional resources needed to overcome broader institutional barriers to educational achievement such as poverty, the lack of economic and educational opportunities for parents, and gross disparities in the application of discipline practices that have resulted in disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates for African-American and American Indian students.

The consequences of failing to proactively address educational inequities are serious and will affect all Michigan residents. Michigan’s economy, and its ability to provide services to an aging population, depends on a strong, well-educated workforce—one that will be increasingly diverse. The facts are startling: children of color are 2 to 4 times more likely to live with parents who don’t have a high school diploma, and are much less likely to read proficiently by third grade or graduate from high school on time. And, African-American and Latino young adults are less likely to be college-ready or complete college.

The League supports and will work for policies that can create greater equity, including full funding of the state’s At-Risk School Aid program that provides needed funds to high-poverty schools, a two-generational education agenda that addresses literacy levels and educational achievement for parents and their children, more investments in high quality child care and early learning programs, and restorative justice practices that reduce the need for school suspensions and expulsions.

— Pat Sorenson

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