Stimulus Funds Should Go To Improving Education For Poor And Minority Communities, Says ACLU

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Stimulus Funds Should Go To Improving Education For Poor And Minority Communities, Says ACLU

Extending Human Rights Policies Essential To Fulfilling International Treaty Obligations

WASHINGTON - Education
funds included in the stimulus bill should be used to further human
rights policies in the schools, including programs to close achievement
gaps and to improve the quality of education for poor and minority
communities across the country, according to a letter the American
Civil Liberties Union sent today to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

According to the letter, the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides an "opportunity not
only to make the distribution of educational funds more equitable, but
to fulfill fundamental U.S. human rights treaty obligations." 

The ACLU's recommendations include
creating innovative human rights education programs to help teachers
incorporate universal human rights values into their curriculum
materials and addressing the inequitable implementation and provision
of education at the federal, state and local levels.

The ACLU's letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/38829lgl20090225.html

The full text of the letter is as follows:

February 25, 2009

Mr. Arne Duncan
Secretary
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

RE:  Using ARRA Funds to Meet Human Rights Obligations in Education

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We write to congratulate you on your
appointment as President Obama's Secretary of Education, and to express
our sincere hope that you will use the unprecedented opportunity
presented by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to
further the realization of human rights norms in the U.S.  In
particular, we urge you to use the education funds in ARRA to close the
achievement gaps in the education system and to improve the quality of
education of poor and minority communities across the country, a
campaign promise made by the President.  Such a commitment will have
the effect of helping the U.S. to meet its international obligations
under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (CERD).

Achieving quality education for
every child in America is a crucial human rights goal that is
consistent with President Obama's stated positions.  As President Obama
said in his Howard University Convocation speech in September 2007: "It
will take a movement to finish what began in Topeka, Kansas and Little
Rock, Arkansas.  It will take a movement of Americans from every city
and town, of every race and background to stand up and say that no
matter what you look like or where you come from, every child in
America should have the opportunity to receive the best education this
country has to offer.  Every child."

With the passage of ARRA, your
department has the opportunity not only to make the distribution of
educational funds more equitable, but to fulfill fundamental U.S. human
rights treaty obligations.  Under CERD, a fundamental international
human rights treaty to which the U.S. is party, federal agencies must
review their policies and amend or repeal regulations that have the
effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination, including
those that affect racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people,
women, and immigrant non-citizens. Every four years, the CERD treaty's
monitoring committee (CERD Committee) reviews the U.S. government's
compliance.  In February 2008, the U.S. appeared before the CERD
Committee and reported on its record under CERD and on March 7, 2008,
the CERD Committee issued its findings, or Concluding Observations, on
the U.S.' compliance with the treaty obligations.  The Committee
pressed the U.S. to improve in several areas, including its inadequate
implementation and provision of education at the federal, state, and
local levels - one of five matters on which our government was to
report within one year.  In particular, the Committee focused on the
adoption and strengthening the use of affirmative action programs to
eliminate discrimination and allowing school districts to voluntarily
promote school integration.  The U.S. is to submit its next periodic
report and detail progress made on all other issues in 2011.

ARRA offers an unprecedented
opportunity to take the obligations of CERD and the recommendations of
the CERD Committee into account with regard to the distribution of
these educational funds.  In your confirmation testimony before the
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, you
correctly called education the "civil rights issue of our generation -
the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a more
equal and just society."  To promote this enlightened view of education
and to achieve conformance with basic human rights standards, the U.S.
government should create a more equitable distribution of funds and
target them in such a way as to address the compelling concerns cited
in the Concluding Observations. 

Beyond these fundamental and
obligatory goals, using the discrete funding set aside for teacher
quality enhancement and incentive and innovation grants, the Department
could also create visionary and innovative special human rights
education programs that could help teachers incorporate universal human
rights values into their curriculum materials.  Values such as the
right to dignity and the right to equality, neglected by the previous
administration, would not only meet this universal standard, but also
mirror the best of American traditions.

Several human rights organizations,
such as Amnesty International USA and the U.S. Human Rights Network,
have created successful human rights education and training models in
schools, universities, and other educational settings.  Yet the
responsibility for developing human rights educational programs should
not fall exclusively to NGOs.  Official governmental embrace of
fundamental international human rights such as the right to be free
from racial discrimination sends a very different message than the mere
creation, sponsorship, or promotion of these programs by
non-governmental entities.  Many NGOs stand ready to work closely with
the government in developing such educational programs and ensuring
their effective implementation.

This is a historic opportunity to
break with the failed policies of the Bush administration and provide
necessary resources aimed at providing equal opportunity for all in a
safe, integrated, and equitable educational system.  We welcome the
opportunity to discuss with you and with officials in your department
the ways in which human rights can strengthen the work of your
department and advance your work in educating the nation's children.

We would be pleased to meet with you
and your staff to offer suggestions for addressing compliance with CERD
educational recommendations through the use of ARRA funds.  Please
contact Michael Macleod-Ball at 202-675-2309 if you should have
questions or comments or if you wish to advance the discussion on these
issues.

Respectfully,

Caroline Frederickson
Director, Washington Legislative Office

Michael W. Macleod-Ball
Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel

Jamil Dakwar
Director, Human Rights Program
cc:  Melody Barnes, Domestic Policy Advisor

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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