The morning after Texas district judge John Dietz ruled that the state’s school system fails to satisfy criteria set forth in the Texas constitution, I’m browsing some of the “top headline” sources on the internet to see how the fate of 4 million Texas schoolchildren rates on the national news scale.
“More than 130 years after Alferd Packer ate his five companions to survive a Colorado winter, a museum curator is making a case that the notorious cannibal was innocent of murder,” reads a report from the Associated Press that I find seven stories from the top at Yahoo’s US National News. But no news of Texas education in the total of twenty stories that are either listed as “top” or “more.”
“Three men shot to death in a Willowbrook parking lot apparently were victims of a planned ‘hit’ that by a fluke occurred just as a village police officer drove past, law enforcement sources said Wednesday,” reads a story out of Chicago that gets number seven billing at Google’s US news page.
“The Times Fills 2 Editing Posts,” reads headline number six under New York Times national headlines. The Education section also finds other things to talk about.
With Hurricane Ivan consuming three of the top dozen stories at USA Today’s “Nation” page, it’s Southern weather that rules the day.
Maybe we can find the headline at CNN US? Nope. But if you look under local news from the US Southwest you will find this number one headline: “Former anchorman out of prison.” Or this headline, ranked second: “Henna tattoos cause family pain.” The Education page leads with a story about college affordability.
As the school buses pass my window here in Texas, taking kids to their unconstitutional destinations, I’m reading parts of the US Supreme Court decision in 1973 that set the precedent for not putting Texas education on the national agenda. The Rodriguez case, which was the first of the “Edgewood” cases to be filed–way back in the summer of ’68–set the Supremes to fidgeting over the prospects of “wealth equalization.” They said they could handle a lawsuit where folks were completely deprived of some good because of poverty, but the if the High Court started getting involved in cases where relatively poorer people were only relatively deprived of such things as education, well you know, the great black-robed scions might have to stop taking summer breaks!
The dissenting judges in 1973 were Thurgood Marshall and William O. Douglas, not bad company to keep on a morning such as this.
“The Court today decides, in effect, that a State may constitutionally vary the quality of education which it offers its children in accordance with the amount of taxable wealth located in the school districts within which they reside,” wrote Marshall (with Douglas concurring). “The majority’s decision represents an abrupt departure from the mainstream of recent state and federal court decisions concerning the unconstitutionality of state educational financing schemes dependent upon taxable local wealth. More unfortunately, though, the majority’s holding can only be seen as a retreat from our historic commitment to equality of educational opportunity and as unsupportable acquiescence in a system which deprives children in their earliest years of the chance to reach their full potential as citizens. The Court does this despite the absence of any substantial justification for a scheme which arbitrarily channels educational resources in accordance with the fortuity of the amount of taxable wealth within each district.”
“In my judgment,” continued Marshall, “the right of every American to an equal start in life, so far as the provision of a state service as important as education is concerned, is far too vital to permit state discrimination on grounds as tenuous as those presented by this record. Nor can I accept the notion that it is sufficient to remit these appellees to the vagaries of the political process which, contrary to the majority’s suggestion, has proved singularly unsuited to the task of providing a remedy for this discrimination. I, for one, am unsatisfied with the hope of an ultimate ‘political’ solution sometime in the indefinite future while, in the meantime, countless children unjustifiably receive inferior educations that ‘may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.’ Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 494 (1954). I must therefore respectfully dissent.”
But it was the refusal of Marshall’s peers that sent the issue of equalized education back to the Texas courts and a series of state-level rulings known as the Edgewood cases of the early 90s. Texas courts today are doing the work that national courts refused to do forty years ago, and in the process historical contributions are being made to the human rights of children everywhere.
For these reasons and others that might be given with more time and space, can we please ask the editors of the national desks to dig a little deeper into their Associated Press dispatches and post the ones about Texas education? After all, attention to the human rights of 4 million children today will bring you so many more avid readers tomorrow.
GREG MOSES writes for the Texas Civil Rights Review. Moses contributed a chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush for Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org