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Ear to the Ground

Michelle Obama: Segregation Persists 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education Ruling

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Posted on May 16, 2014

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First lady Michelle Obama commemorated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling on race-based school segregation with a sobering speech Friday to graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kan. In short: American schools may be backsliding when it comes to integrating schoolchildren and giving students of all races and backgrounds a solid education.

“Today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech,” she said. But her speech isn’t the story here so much as the data behind it—and The New York Times provided some evidence to back up her claims in a report that day:

Today about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, the federal Department of Education reported on its official blog on Friday, adding that only 14 percent of white students attend schools that could be considered multicultural.

“We have slowly and very steadily slipped backward,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. “All over the country we are seeing more and more racially segregated schools.”

Here in Kansas, there is intense debate over whether the state is living up to Brown’s promise. An alliance of school districts has sued the state, contending that current financing for schools is inadequate and is disproportionately hurting schools in low-income, minority districts.

The State Supreme Court recently ordered the Legislature to restore special aid for poor districts. Gov. Sam Brownback said in a brief interview on Friday that he agreed with the court’s decision. “It needs to be fixed,” he said.

But Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, said Friday that funding systems like that in Kansas “are relegating millions of primarily black and brown children into schools that are separate, unequal and inadequate.”

President Obama issued an official proclamation to mark the anniversary, which falls on Saturday. Brush up on your Brown v. Board of Education know-how with this historical primer, or for the more visually inclined, here’s a quick clip (below) courtesy of PBS.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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