U.S. Commission on Civil Rights



WASHINGTON-A report released today by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights finds equal educational opportunity for students with limited English proficiency or skills among the most pressing civil rights needs confronting the Nation. In the report, the Commission urges that school districts and the U.S. Department of Education direct greater attention toward providing that opportunity.

The report, "Equal Educational Opportunity and Nondiscrimination for Students with Limited English Proficiency: Federal Enforcement of Title VI and Lau v. Nichols," is part of the "Equal Educational Opportunity Project Series" resulting from studies by the Commission's Office of Civil Rights Evaluation. The report's release follows a unanimous vote of approval by the Commissioners.

In conjunction with the release of the report, Commission Chairperson Mary Frances Berry said that a newly announced plan by the Clinton Administration to increase funding for civil rights enforcement would, if enacted, be a significant step toward improving civil rights in the Nation. Berry noted that the Commission has for years been urging funding adequate for Federal offices to handle their greatly enlarged workloads, especially in such reports as a 1983 study of the proposed fiscal 1984 budget and in a 1995 study of "Funding Civil Rights Enforcement." The Commission also was critical of underfunding in its 1990s "The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988-The Enforcement Report" and "Federal Title VI Enforcement to Ensure Nondiscrimination in Federally Assisted Programs" report as well as its opening report in the "Equal Educational Opportunity Project Series."

After citing evidence that language barriers prevent students whose native language is other than English from succeeding, the new education report identifies five principles as critical to providing equal educational opportunity to those students. It urges that schools districts follow those principles and that the Department of Education center its enforcement efforts on having them followed.

The principles, in brief:

The report concludes that the Education Department, through its Office for Civil Rights, has demonstrated a commitment to equal educational opportunity and taken innovative steps to enhance enforcement of Federal laws. But, the report adds, the Department's efforts have been insufficient, a conclusion that brings about the report's recommendation for a focus on the five principles.

In a letter transmitting the report to the President and to Congress, Commission Chairperson Berry calls for providing "both educational equity and educational excellence to all students."

Providing equal educational opportunity to students who encounter difficulty communicating in English has become a pressing civil rights issue as the number of such students has risen over recent years and as school districts have grappled with how to educate them, the report asserts. The report adds:

"With high rates of immigration unlikely to lessen in the near future, the urgency of assuring this growing minority of American children that they have equal access to the Nation's educational system likely will continue unabated into the next century."

The report may be obtained free from the Publications Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth St., N.W., Room 600, Washington, DC 20425.

To view the opening statement by Chairperson Mary Frances Berry at the January 21 news conference announcing the release of this report, click here.