|Eighth Annual Quality Education Conference: New Horizons for Equal Educational Opportunity, |
Washington D.C. - June 11-12, 2008
The 2008 Quality Education Conference convened at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU Building), in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. on June 11 and 12, 2008.
The 8th Annual Education Conference featured the annual round up of the states, enhanced litigators' workshops, an overview of the state of adequacy movement, and a diverse range of breakout sessions, including sessions on statewide advocacy and leadership.
from the proceedings of the conference
The implications of expanded federal involvement in education was the subject of “Righting Rodriguez: Implications for Advancing a Federal Constitutional Right to Education.” The session took place on the second day of the 2008 Annual Quality Education Conference.
Lynn Huntley, President of the Southern Education Foundation, introduced the topic by making the case for a U.S. Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to a quality education for all children. The idea for such an amendment is not new. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. introduced a bill in Congress five years ago to guarantee students such a right. Jackson’s efforts have not gained much traction, although, according to Huntley, his ideas have broad public support.
Huntley’s organization has spent the last year researching the issue to determine the impact of a federal amendment, and to examine the challenges that might be encountered in attempting to ratify the amendment. She expects to a summary of their findings to be released later this fall.
Huntley believes a federal amendment on education would finally bring cohesion to a public school system that in reality is an amalgamation of thousands of school districts throughout the fifty states, with varying standards, financial support and access to programs and resources. She argued that a stronger federal role would help states deliver educational services, by not only providing clear, national standards and assessments, but also by ensuring a greater influx of resources and a stronger vision of equal educational opportunity. “Equal opportunity,” she notes, “is not equal if not everyone can take advantage of it.”
To those who may be concerned about how state adequacy efforts might be affected by such a national campaign, Huntley responded that a national movement centered on rights will help local advocates promoting education rights through state constitutions by demonstrating to the public, as well as decision-makers, the ground-swell of national support for better, quality schools.
Aaron Tang, a middle school teacher and Co-Director of OurEducation.org, a web-based, youth-member organization advocating for the right to a quality education, agreed with her assessment. As an organizer and teacher, Tang sees a campaign for a constitutional amendment as a means of raising the national consciousness on what is expected of students, parents, schools and government to make schools effective.
Goodwin Liu, Professor at Berkeley Law School, the third panelist at the session, admitted he had some reservations over launching a campaign on a constitutional education amendment. He instead argued for using two other strategies to guarantee equal opportunity: on the local level, examining the intra-district disparities in teacher distribution, while on the federal level, looking at how federal Title I funds are distributed to states.
The question and answer session produced some interesting observations on a greater federal role:
Among the faith-based organizers, there was enthusiasm over the possibility of incorporating a federal educational rights campaign into their local organizing strategies. Such a campaign could serve as a vehicle for securing funds for implementing the No Child Left Behind Act, a key area of concern among their constituents.
Others noted the power of such a campaign to illuminate the resource gaps between states and within districts. A federal policy on access to high quality education could provide incentives to states to finally resolve those gaps. For example, states would have to demonstrate efforts to remedy resource gaps in order to receive additional federal funds.
Others saw a federal amendment as a natural extension of state constitutional amendments. If all fifty states agree that education is a right, why not codify the right on a national level?
Most audience members agreed pursuing a movement for a federal amendment was worth considering but that more research is needed before committing to new strategies for securing a quality education beyond the efforts now being made by the adequacy movement.
Prepared by Jessica Garcia, July 14, 2008