Home > Uncategorized > Betsy DeVos Is In… Jeff Sessions is Waiting in the Wings… and Children Raised in Poverty Sit on the Sidelines

Betsy DeVos Is In… Jeff Sessions is Waiting in the Wings… and Children Raised in Poverty Sit on the Sidelines

February 7, 2017

It’s official: Betsy DeVos is now the Secretary of Education by a vote of 51-50… and, as we’ve learned from the Presidential vote, the margin of victory doesn’t matter in the least: Ms. DeVos has the same level of authority as she would have if she had been a unanimous choice and she will likely be acting as if she has a complete and total mandate.

Her appointment is resulting in a shift in the spotlight to other nominees whose credentials are questionable… and the first name on the list of arguably unqualified candidates is Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General. Unlike Ms. DeVos he has experience that qualifies him on paper… but unlike Ms. DeVos his experience makes him a demonstrably poor candidate. As Ryan Gabrielson reported in today’s Truthdig post, when Mr. Sessions was State Attorney General in Alabama he worked to derail equitable school funding in that state. As Gabrielsson explains, in the early 1990s several judges ruled that Alabama’s funding formula was unconstitutional and then Gov. Guy Hunt, who initially fought the court rulings, “…accepted defeat, and vowed to work with the courts to negotiate a solution for equitably funding all of Alabama’s schools.”

“This is a unique and timely opportunity to make historic improvements in Alabama’s public schools for our children,” Hunt said at a news conference in 1993, “and we will not miss this opportunity.”

Unfortunately for the children attending the schools in the poorest parts of the State, schools that largely served minority students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood in the way.

Sessions, elected Alabama attorney general just a year after the courts had begun review of reform measures, didn’t think the state’s courts should have any role in deciding how Alabama educated its children. He hired expensive private lawyers to fight the findings of the court — first at the district level, later at the state Supreme Court level. He succeeded in removing a judge sympathetic to the plight of poor students from the case. He filed appeal after appeal, insisting he be heard even after the state’s highest court issued final decisions. He fought every effort by the court to require that schools in the state’s poorer communities be funded at the same levels as its wealthier ones.

Sessions’s efforts won out — both in the short term, and in the end. His legal jousting across his two years as attorney general effectively prevented any overhaul to the way schools were financed in Alabama, and as a result helped drag out a case that would ultimately collapse years later when the makeup of the state’s top court turned over.

The article describes in detail how Mr. Sessions’ succession of lawsuits protracted the implementation of the formula and eventually, once the composition of the Court itself changed, the whole case was thrown out. The result?

Today, Alabama’s public schools remain a story of inequality. The poorest districts only receive state funds to cover the minimum instruction, but nothing from local property taxes for music or art, or even enough to buy textbooks for each student. Analyses of test scores have shown Alabama ranks low nationally, especially in math, with both white and black students far behind their peers in other states.

Now, this same man– the one who fought to prevent poor minority children from getting an opportunity to attend decent schools after a State Supreme Court ruling– is going to be responsible for ensuring that the laws of the nation are fairly and equitably enforced… that Supreme Court decisions are respected and their decisions implemented whether he agrees with them or not. Alas, Mr. Sessions is likely to be confirmed… and with his confirmation poor minority children will be overlooked and court cases that are not to the liking of Mr. Sessions or Mr. Trump will either be ignored or fought. It will be a long uphill battle to unseat the Republicans in the House and an even longer and tougher battle to displace Mr. Trump in 2020… but this kind of appointment should make it easier for progressives to activate their base.

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