Issues & Insights: How hard would you fight to get the best education for your kids?

December 18, 2019 | By STEVEN D. ANDERSON

How far would you go to get the best education possible for your child? How hard would you fight? A group of Connecticut parents are prepared to find out — they’re challenging the state’s discriminatory education policies that lock minority children out of the state’s top-flight magnet schools.

That’s what’s happening in Hartford, Connecticut, where LaShawn Robinson and Natalie Delgado want their kids to attend the city’s highly regarded magnet schools to get the best education possible. There’s space available in the classrooms right now. But their kids can’t get the instruction they desire for the most insidious of reasons: the color of their skin. In these schools, what you look like determines the kind of education you get.

Given the progress we’ve made as a country advancing civil rights over the last century, that sounds made up. But for countless minority students in Connecticut, a system of race-based quotas is now doing the work that segregation did in an earlier era — locking young people out of educational opportunities, based on race. It’s time to put an end to this unjust policy.

Here’s the background: In order to comply with an earlier desegregation ruling, Connecticut demands that only three-quarters of a class can be filled with black and Hispanic children. Whites and Asians are supposed to round things out. When they don’t, which is much of the time, seats are empty, and schools run at suboptimal capacity.

Schools that fail to maintain the strict 75 percent cap on minority students face penalties in the form of lost funding. In other parts of Connecticut, like New Haven, that has led to good schools being closed because they couldn’t abide by these constraints.

The irony is that these magnet schools, as the result of the previous desegregation litigation, were established to undo discrimination. Yet thanks to the quota policy, they only exacerbate the problem. Worse yet, government bureaucrats actively manipulate the lottery that awards spots at these in-demand schools in order to achieve what the law insists is the appropriate racial balance.

Let’s be clear: these discriminatory policies aren’t simply abstract debate fodder for lawyers and government bureaucrats. These are real-life frustrations and injustices that became heartbreakingly clear in a mini-documentary released by Pacific Legal Foundation earlier this year. In their own words, parents and community activists explain not only the anguish felt by families across Connecticut but their initial disbelief that such race-based quotas could even be happening in 2019.

Imagine the signal that a racial quota sends to the students striving for quality education in Connecticut. The state turns away these kids from excellent classes simply — and solely — because of how they look. The state effectively tells these kids they are worth less than their peers as a result of an innate human characteristic they have no power to change. The state, explicitly and undeniably, discriminates against them.

We ought to live in a society where who you are, not what color you are, determines your fate. We fought a war over this principle, after all, and now the Constitution requires it. More importantly, it makes basic moral sense.

This must stop. That’s why we’re representing LaShawn, Natalie, and other parents just like them in legal challenges to end this state-sponsored and enforced discrimination. We’ve learned and been shaped by the lessons of the past, where people in power routinely categorized as inferior those folks born with the wrong skin color. Connecticut officials seem to flatter themselves that they know how to properly balance students’ race to achieve the right diversity levels. Their inflexible commitment to diversity at all costs denies Connecticut’s most needy kids a quality education simply because of their skin color.

That’s why these parents are prepared to fight this battle in court. Kids already at a disadvantage should not be further disadvantaged by a government that guarantees their right to be treated equally under the law. A good start to teaching our children that race does not determine their future is to stop making race decide whether or not they are eligible for a good school. Connecticut must put an end to this unconstitutional system once and for all.

Steven D. Anderson is president and CEO of Pacific Legal Foundation. 

This op-ed was originally published by Issues & Insights on December 18, 2019.