On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the leader of a prominent national black education group says school desegregation orders might be no longer useful. Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, was responding to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit charging Louisiana's school voucher program hurts desegregation efforts.
Today, Campbell said, educational excellence is more important for racial progress than equity in a given school. "We can't ignore the kind of history of efforts to stop or block integration in schools in the South in the '60s and '70s," he said.
But he added: "I think in 2013 we have to have a very different viewpoint in some regards.
"In the name of racial harmony or racial integration, we're going to assign kids to failing schools? These aren't easy issues."
The Black Alliance for Educational Options has been the loudest institutional voice in support of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which lets low-income children in C-, D- and F-graded schools attend participating private schools at taxpayer expense. The group is holding a news conference Tuesday morning in Amite to urge the Justice Department to drop the lawsuit.
Also attending will be representatives of the right-wing American Federation for Children.
Almost 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate school facilities were inherently unequal, 34 of Louisiana's 69 local school systems, including those of Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes, remain under court-imposed desegregation orders. These orders dictate that the systems must try to attain racial balance in schools, typically involving magnet schools and busing.