The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that unduly limits school districts from adopting diversity policies by prohibiting the consideration of race and other factors in public employment, public education, or public activities despite the constitutionality of such policies.
Instead of protecting the rights of public school students, the ill-conceived Michigan amendment would limit students’ opportunities by interfering with local control of education and local school boards’ abilities to design voluntary policies promoting the academic benefits of diversity, NSBA argues in an amicus brief in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The 2006 measure squelches the discretion of K-12 school officials to use demographic factors including race, sex, ethnicity, and national origin in designing programs that seek to create or promote diversity within the student body and among the school staff.
“This amendment to the Michigan Constitution is being billed as an anti-discriminatory measure, but it would have the reverse effect by essentially cutting off local school officials’ abilities to implement research-based programs that benefit student learning,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “It also would effectively end programs that target the unique academic needs of certain subgroups of students.”
In Grutter v. Gratz and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist., the U.S. Supreme Court granted school boards the authority under certain limited circumstances to adopt race conscious policies that promote diversity in schools for educational reasons. School boards have adopted diversity policies aimed at preparing students to compete in a global economy, developing leadership skills, increasing standardized test scores and instilling democratic values associated with a pluralistic society.
“Research shows that all students achieve at higher levels when they learn with peers in diverse settings,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This amendment would restrict public schools from using even narrowly tailored, race-conscious methods to implement the educational benefits of voluntary diversity policies, hindering schools’ ability to provide all students with a key component of the 21st Century skills they need to compete in the global workforce.”
NSBA is joined in the amicus brief by AASA, the School Superintendents Association; the National Association of Elementary School Principals; and the Horace Mann League.