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Defending Students’ Rights: SPLC awarded grant to promote education equity and decarceration of youth

The Southern Poverty Law Center was recently awarded a $400,000, two-year grant to support its goals of ensuring equitable funding and fair educational opportunities for youth and reforming school discipline practices that needlessly push students out of the classroom and into the criminal legal system.

Lumina Foundation, which provided the grant, created its Racial Justice and Equity (RJE) Fund to directly support organizations like the SPLC that are working to eradicate systemic racism and advance equity for groups experiencing racial oppression within the educational system.

“We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of the Lumina Foundation,” said Bacardi Jackson, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group. “The Racial Justice and Equity Fund will help us build stronger campaigns to dismantle systemic racism and to address the root causes of inequity in our education systems, including the defunding of our public schools through voucher schemes that divert tax dollars to private schools and the over-policing and militarization of our schools.”

Harmful policies

The SPLC has long been fighting on behalf of children across the Deep South who have been denied access to a quality public education, while tens of thousands of students are pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system due to lack of needed supports, such as access to mental health services and federally mandated accommodations, and discipline policies that punish them harshly for minor misbehavior.

“Thanks to Lumina Foundation, we can strengthen our integrated advocacy approach that allows us to use community mobilization, public education and strategic litigation to help bolster more child-focused policy priorities that will make our schools equitable, safe and effective, so all children can learn and thrive,” Jackson said.

All Lumina RJE grantees share the explicit focus to not only eradicate racism but work to mitigate and eliminate the entrenched policies, practices and beliefs that stand in the way of racial equity and justice, all the while connecting with higher education in multiple ways.

The grant will also allow the SPLC to increase educational attainment for groups facing barriers to securing education and remove barriers that cause disparate outcomes by race and ethnicity. In part, the grant will also help the SPLC advocate for raising the minimum age for arresting and locking up children and putting more restorative justice approaches in place.

“These harmful policies have left our children with an inadequately resourced education, greater racial and economic segregation and a more deeply entrenched school-to-prison pipeline that pushes out, traumatizes and criminalizes Black and Brown children, children with disabilities and children experiencing poverty,” Jackson said.

Investing in the mission

Lumina’s work to increase education attainment is guided by an equity-first approach, where equity can be achieved when outcomes cannot be predicted by a person’s race or ethnicity.

“We are thrilled and honored to partner with Lumina Foundation to advance racial justice and education equity in the South,” said Lecia Brooks, the SPLC’s chief of staff and culture. “Thanks to the RJE Fund, the SPLC is now able to use this generous resource as an avenue to continue our work on behalf of children’s rights, where students of color are at a constant disadvantage.”

Photo at top: A teacher and students in a classroom raise their hands together. (Credit: iStock photo)