Editor’s note: This is the second post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.
I wish those who are outraged and protesting that “black lives matter” over the two-tiered policing and criminal justice system would connect the dots and express similar outrage over our two-tiered, state-operated, feudal education system. Why do so few similar demonstrations occur, and never with a statewide or national scope, about the outcomes American education provides to families generally, but particularly for African-Americans, when the effects on lives are at least equally devastating?
At the surface, America has these two exemplary 21st Century societal systems that represent the very core of its founding beliefs – equality, justice, and fairness. Criminal law is not race- or class-based as written in statute. Everyone is equal before the law and no one is above it. Public education is free and, since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, universally open and equal for all. The double standards that in fact exist are neither explicit nor openly condoned. We have reams of data to document the injustices at the hearts of both systems.
From speeding tickets to drug arrests through convictions to imprisonment, African-Americans (as well as Latinos and poor people of all colors) are disproportionately represented, often grossly so. In the 2011 U.S. Department of Justice’s report, Contacts Between Police and the Public, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that while white, black, and Hispanic drivers were stopped at similar rates nationwide, black drivers were three times as likely to be searched during a stop as white drivers, and twice as likely as Hispanic drivers. During a more than 20-year period, white secondary students were slightly more likely to have abused an illegal substance within a month than a black student, yet black youths were arrested at twice the rate. Although black Americans make up only 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 48.2 percent of adults in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.
All Americans accused of a crime have an absolute right to an attorney, but the quality of that defense is inconsistent at best. More than 70 percent of American public defenders’ offices reported extreme or very challenging funding issues in 2012. On average, each public defender handled more than one new case for every day of the year at a rate of $414.55 per case. Given that the poverty rate for both African-Americans and Latinos is about 25 percent compared with 9 percent for whites, many more minorities are affected by this overburdened system.
If convicted, Supreme Court decisions that have made an “inadequate defense” argument nearly impossible to win on appeal only further weaken efforts that advocates make for increasing funding for public defenders. Courts have upheld convictions even when defense counsels have slept during trials, used cocaine and heroin throughout trials, and admitted they had not been prepared on the facts or law of the case.
These “dots” that have stirred outrage connect easily into an education system that falls far short of its promise for equality and justice. As the Alliance for School Choice recently noted, 75 percent of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. This failure feeds the criminal justice system.
We are making slow progress to increase parental choice, but most students remain assigned to schools via ZIP code. Continue Reading →