Segregating the evacuees
A number of states, including Utah and Texas, want to teach some of the dispersed Gulf Coast students in shelters instead of in 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.
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. In addition, 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.
But officials of some states contend that separate classes would be less disruptive to both school districts and displaced families. 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...
Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, noting that 25,000 evacuees are housed at a closed Air Force base in San Antonio, asked the federal Education Department last week for "flexibility" to serve students "at facilities where they are housed, or otherwise separate from Texas residents during the 2005-2006 school year." U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, introduced legislation Monday that would grant Secretary Spellings authority to waive McKinney-Vento.
Apparently Senator KBH also introduced legislation to give vouchers to the evacuated students which, if true, would be one of the most cynical and dirty attempts to have right-wing legislation enacted that I've ever heard of. And that's saying something. But more on that later. Back to the waiver:
Gary Orfield, director of a Harvard University project that monitors school integration, said that segregating a predominantly black group of evacuees could raise "constitutional questions of racial discrimination." He also said that because many of them may be traumatized, have learning deficits, or come from failing schools, it would be "terrifically difficult" to teach a separate class of the displaced students, and that placing them in middle-class schools and communities would benefit them educationally.
This is exactly the argument that Jonathan Kozol makes about the education system in general. Segregation harms the segregated. Period. These evacuated students need to be placed in "normal" schools so they have a real shot to learn something other than pain and suffering this academic year.
Notice also that the profiteers are trying to get in on the action:
Mark Thimmig, chief executive of White Hat Ventures LLC, which educates nearly 5,000 students in Pennsylvania and Ohio via the Internet, said last week that his company would be eager to educate displaced students in the Astrodome.
White Hat is one of the biggest, most well connected (David Brennan ran it for years) for-profit companies in education. My guess is they aren't donating their services.