At first glance, you may not think the article, linked below, about the Voting Rights Act has much to do with public education, but there is a strong connection. Hang on for a few paragraphs, and I will explain.
The article suggests that the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature, by overreaching on the new voter ID law and the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts, has all but guaranteed that the Voting Rights Act will remain the law of the land for the foreseeable future.
The Voting Rights Act, in case you need reminding, is a federal law, initially enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and extended to Texas 10 years later, which applies to eight states with a history of racial discrimination in voting or voting procedures. Those states, including Texas, have to get any new laws affecting elections pre-cleared, or approved, by either the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington before the laws can go into effect.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and other state Republican leaders have been arguing the civil rights-era law is outdated and no longer necessary because the bad old days of poll taxes and other overt efforts to suppress minority voting are long gone.
But both the Justice Department and a federal court in Washington blocked the voter ID law because they determined that the requirement to have a government-issued photo ID for voting likely would discriminate against minority voters, who are more likely than Anglos to lack the proper documents. A separate federal court struck down new redistricting plans because, judges determined, the legislative majority ignored Hispanic population growth in favor of carving out new political districts favoring Anglos – and Republicans.
Final decisions in both cases ultimately will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court, but some legal experts are now saying that Texas’ political leadership, although inadvertently, has made a strong case for why the Voting Rights Act is still necessary.
Now, here are the implications for public education. The same legislative majority that approved the voter ID law and the redistricting plans also slashed $5.4 billion from the public schools last year. The majority of public school students in Texas are minority children, mainly Hispanics, and their number will continue to increase.
The same legislators who voted to put these children’s educations at risk also, according to the Justice Department and federal judges, voted to weaken the political impact that many of their parents – and, in a few years, the children themselves — can have on critical educational policy issues.