NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 20, 2005

The 372,000 schoolchildren displaced by Hurricane Katrina are stirring an old debate about whether separate education can really be equal, says the Wall Street Journal. At the center of the dispute is whether the McKinney-Vento Act, a landmark federal law banning educational segregation of homeless children, should apply to the evacuees.

A number of states, including Utah and Texas, want to teach some of the dispersed Gulf Coast students in shelters instead of local public schools, a stance supported by the Bush administration and some private education providers. But advocates for homeless families and civil rights oppose that approach, says the Journal.

Officials of some states contend that separate classes would be less disruptive to both school districts and displaced families:

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says these displaced and homeless children are not the typical homeless children and keeping families together is important as the Katrina victims receive aid and support.
  • Because many of the stranded students are black, holding classes for them at military bases, convention centers or other emergency housing sites could run afoul of racial desegregation plans still operating in some school districts.
  • Advocates for the homeless say thousands of storm-battered children have already enrolled in public schools across the country without ill effects; some advocates fear separate classes could leave displaced students warehoused and forgotten.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is expected to ask Congress soon for authority to waive McKinney-Vento and other key education legislation, such as the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which holds districts and schools accountable for test scores of students in each racial group. Without a waiver, the penalty for violating McKinney-Vento is to deny states the funding for homeless children that they would receive under the act.

Source: Daniel Golden, "Separate but Equal? Schooling of Evacuees Provokes Debate," Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2005.

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