In today’s Federal Flash, we cover major Supreme Court rulings to protect Dreamers from deportation and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning (LGBTQ) employees from workplace discrimination. We’ll also share highlights from two congressional hearings on the challenge of reopening schools and competing proposals for police reform.
Supreme Court Ruling on DACA
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Nearly 700,000 young people have received DACA protections since the program’s inception in 2010, allowing undocumented youth who arrived in the United States as children to pursue higher education and work without fear of deportation.
Joining the court’s four liberal justices, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedure Act by rescinding DACA in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Thus, the decision offers a welcome, but temporary, reprieve for DACA recipients. Only congressional action can permanently protect undocumented immigrant youth and families.
Following the decision, Deborah Delisle, Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) CEO and president said, “For years, DACA has given thousands of young people—many of whom have never known a home other than the United States—the chance to achieve the American Dream by pursuing an education and a career without fear of deportation. We need Congress to step up immediately with legislation that provides protection to these vital members of our communities and our education system.”
Protections for LGBTQ Employees
DACA wasn’t the only major decision from the Supreme Court last week. In a landmark 6-3 ruling, the court declared that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. The majority opinion states, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
We don’t know yet how the decision will impact education. Do antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ employees extend to LGBTQ students? How will this impact the ability of transgender students to compete in sports and use bathrooms of their choice? And what about religious schools? This case did not address a religious freedom argument, meaning that arguments regarding religious liberty will have to be addressed in future cases.
Reopening Schools During COVID-19
Meanwhile, both the Senate and House education committees held hearings on the challenges of bringing students and staff back to classrooms safely this fall.
Looming budget cuts—and the need for additional federal funds—were top of mind. Nebraska Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt warned of a “perfect storm as we face increased needs and decreased resources.” He projected sustained cuts of 20 percent or more for K–12 schools. Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said Cleveland will prioritize bringing students with the highest needs—like students with disabilities and English learners—back for in-person instruction, echoing one of the recommendations All4Ed made for prioritizing equity in the response to the coronavirus. Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is emphasizing another one of our recommendations: student access to technology for remote learning—which is no longer, in her words, a “nice to have.”
Republicans were skeptical of the call for additional federal funds. Both Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairman and ranking member respectively of the House and Senate education committees, wanted more information on how aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act had been spent and why CARES Act funds were insufficient.
Police Reform Bills Introduced in Congress
Finally, House Democrats and Senate Republicans have introduced competing bills to address police reform in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other Black Americans at the hands of police.
The Republican bill—sponsored by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott (R-SC)—would require further disclosures about police use of deadly force, codify reporting on the use of “no-knock” warrants, and give incentives for localities to ban choke holds. Related to education, Scott’s bill would create a federal Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys to examine racial disparities in schools but not much else. His bill does not address the presence of police in schools, and even the proposed Commission would not be tasked with considering disparities that affect Black girls and other students of color. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised to consider the legislation this week.
The Democrats’ proposal, which already passed the House Judiciary Committee and is expected to receive a floor vote this week, goes much further. The bill would create a national registry for data on police misconduct, ban choke holds and “no-knock” warrants, alter the “qualified immunity” standard so victims of police brutality could seek damages, and lower the bar to prosecute officers for misconduct. The House bill also would require the attorney general to develop uniform national standards for law enforcement, including school resource officers and those working in juvenile justice. We’ll report back as both bills move through the legislative process.
Moving America Forward
Finally, House Democrats released a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package last week, Moving America Forward, that merges several existing priorities into a single bill that covers everything from transportation and housing to climate change. Critically, the Moving America Forward package includes the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which would invest $130 billion in grants and bond authority in high-poverty schools with facilities that pose health and safety risks to students and staff. In the near-term, funds could be used on an emergency basis to help schools safely reopen by renovating facilities to meet guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, program funds also could support access to broadband and high-speed internet in schools, and $5 billion is provided to expand home internet access.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the June 22 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at All4Ed.