57 years after Brown v. Board, social and economic inequality persists at schools

desegregationOn the 57th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the historic Supreme Court ruling that integrated public schools and paved the way for the civil rights movement, we should take a moment to realize how far the United States has come – and how far we have yet to go.

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling marks the beginning of the end to legal segregation and overturned the inherently unconstitutional notion of “separate but equal”, yet massive inequality persists in our society – particularly in education.

From poor facilities and outdated books to few advanced classes and little arts or enrichment, schools that serve predominately students of color and students from lower income families provide fewer opportunities for excellence – and have worse educational outcomes – than schools in more affluent areas.

Many scholars, politicians and educators have tackled this issue from multiple perspectives, yet inequality persists, and many of us assume there’s really nothing we can do about it.

But there is something Seattle’s City Council can do this summer that will help address one glaring aspect of inequality – pass a minimum standard for paid sick days for all workers this summer.

In Seattle, 190,000 workers have no paid sick days. Many of these workers are lower-income, and some are parents of school-aged children – unable to take time away from work to care for a sick child without risking a smaller paycheck and/or discipline at work.

Many of the jobs not offering paid sick days tend to be in low-wage industries, in which Latino and African American workers are more heavily represented than whites. A study found that just 36.6% of children in families with incomes below 200% of federal poverty had a parent with paid sick leave, compared to 80.9% of higher income children.

In addition, children recover more quickly from illness with a parent present – getting them back to school and ready to learn. But in Seattle, nearly 1 in 3 school children – 13,000 students in Seattle Public Schools – have all parents working in jobs that do not provide paid sick days. And while low-income parents are far more likely to take time off work to care for a child if they have paid sick leave, parents without paid sick days are also much more likely to send a sick child to school.

Everyone gets sick, and paid sick leave shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for middle- and upper-income workers. So please, send an email to the Seattle City Council and urge them to pass paid sick days now – and not “with all deliberate speed.”

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