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Researcher Recommendations for a Biden Education Civil Rights Agenda

BOULDER, CO (November 24, 2020) – In light of several key civil rights rollbacks that occurred in the last four years, President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration will face a long list of needed actions to address racial injustice and systemic racism impacting the country’s youth.

In a policy memo released today by the National Education Policy Center, An Agenda for Restoring Civil Rights in K-12 Federal Education Policy, professors Janelle Scott, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Elizabeth DeBray, Erica Frankenberg, and Kathryn McDermott offer six concrete suggestions for steps that the new administration can and should take to move forward in this crucial area.

First, the new administration should restore key Obama-era civil rights provisions related to voluntary school integration as an initial step, while offering more substantive changes and additional guidance.

Next, voluntary incentives should be provided to create racially diverse and equitable schools, and school choice policies should be aligned with civil rights goals as part of a larger racial justice in education agenda. Magnet and charter schools must work in concert with traditional public systems to meet diversity goals.

Third, the federal government should return to the Obama Administration’s practice of examining districtwide statistics and practices when individuals file discrimination complaints.

Fourth, the administration should provide more resources for enforcement around civil rights violations, including support passage of the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, which restores the private right of action for civil lawsuits claiming disparate impact under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a legislative fix to a 2001 Supreme Court decision called Alexander v. Sandoval.

Fifth, necessary resources must be provided for underfunded schools. The Biden campaign promised to triple the appropriations for Title I schools. At a time when local and state governments are facing substantially lowered revenue, this funding should shift toward approaches that provide support for students, including social workers, extracurricular activities, school psychologists, and guidance counselors. 

Lastly, the authors propose a federal title for health. States and districts need the federal government to support equitable, safe, quality schooling, during COVID-19 and in its eventual aftermath. A federal title will ensure stable funding for school nurses, mental health and guidance counselors, and other benefits necessary for public schools to survive and flourish.

If ever there were a time to respond to deep educational needs, it is this moment. The policy memo’s authors point out that a broad coalition of civil rights organizations exists to help the Biden-Harris Department of Education support and sustain a robust civil rights agenda for our nation’s schools.

Find An Agenda for Restoring Civil Rights in K-12 Federal Education Policy, by Janelle Scott, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Elizabeth DeBray, Erica Frankenberg, and Kathryn McDermott, at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: