Wonkbook: We still have work to do to desegregate schools

May 19

Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here.


1954: On the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Nettie Hunt explains the meaning of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education to her daughter Nickie. (Photo by Bettmann/Corbis)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 1 million. That's how many Americans might be receiving incorrect subsidies for Obamacare policies they bought on the insurance exchanges.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: This map shows the 20 states with the most-segregated public schools.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Still segregated, 60 years later; (2) meet the new housing nominee; (3) a health care scandal that's worrying Dems; (4) Obama's CO2 crackdown coming soon; and (5) privacy advocates' NSA reform worries.

1. Top story: 60 years after Brown v. Board, we still have work to do on school desegregation

White House puts discrimination at the fore. "Nearly six years after the United States elected its first black president, the signposts of the latest discussion have appeared across the cultural landscape....These high-profile, racially charged controversies have coincided with what the administration, and many others, hoped would be a moment of celebration surrounding the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which ended — legally, at least — racial segregation in public education." Scott Wilson and Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.

De jure integrated, de facto still segregrated. "The 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education opened the door to the civil rights revolution of the following decades as legalized segregation was ended. But according to a recent study...segregation of schools based on race and poverty remains after decades of efforts....Today there are a variety of other factors that make for segregated schools. For example, birthrates among whites have stabilized while Latino birthrates have surged. School enrollment often depends on housing patterns, which in turn depend on affordability and job opportunities. Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with substantial majorities of poor children." Michael Muskal in the Los Angeles Times.

Primary source: The UCLA study.

Housing segregation is holding back the promise of Brown v. Board: "It’s that much harder to integrate classrooms when the communities where children live are still so segregated. Since the Civil Rights Era, residential racial segregation across the U.S. has steadily declined. But segregation among school-aged children has startlingly lagged behind this progress. In the communities where they live, black and white children — as well as the poor and non-poor — are more isolated from each other than adults in the U.S. population at large." Emily Badger in The Washington Post.

Explainers:

5 myths about the Brown decision. Imani Perry in The Washington Post.

Brown decision at 60: A look at education inequity. Kimberly Hefling and Jesse J. Holland in the Associated Press.

Long read: Segregation now: The resegregation of America's schools. Nikole Hannah-Jones in ProPublica.

Still, minorities faring better than pre-Brown. "Just before Brown, only about one in seven African-Americans, compared with more than one in three whites, held a high school degree. Today...the share of all African-American adults holding high school degrees (85 percent) nearly equals the share of whites (89 percent); blacks have slightly passed whites on that measure among young adults ages 25 to 29. Before Brown, only about one in 40 African-Americans earned a college degree. Now more than one in five hold one. Educational advances have also keyed other gains, including the growth of a substantial black middle-class and health gains.... Yet many other disparities remain." Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

How charter schools are shaking up the debate. "About 5% of U.S. students attend charter schools, which began as a late 20th-century attempt by educators and entrepreneurs to create what they believed to be higher quality, more innovative alternatives to public schools. With the Obama administration's blessing and start-up money behind it, charters are poised for further exponential growth. The problem with that, critics say, is that charter systems pay more attention to student achievement than to racial diversity when both are important. Charter advocates counter by listing a number of limitations on their recruitment." Heidi Hall in USA Today.

How the administration is taking on desegregation. "The Obama administration has revived a federal interest in desegregation issues. In a few places, it has managed to leverage the court orders or federal agreements to fight inequities that otherwise would be hard to remedy — though plenty would fault the Obama White House for not doing enough to fight resegregation and the lack of opportunity afforded to many students. The federal government can intervene in districts with court orders so long as it can prove that minority children are at a disadvantage. Building a case is much harder in other places." Nirvi Shah and Maggie Severns in Politico.

Holder to grads: Focus on subtle but discriminatory policies, not racial rants. "Attorney General Eric Holder weighed in Saturday on recent racial controversies, saying Americans should worry less about racist outbursts that make headlines, and instead focus on policies that discriminate subtly against minorities in schools, voting booths and prisons....In the speech, Mr. Holder cited the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court ruling that decreed unconstitutional the 'separate but equal' doctrine that had allowed segregation." Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

Primary sources:

The full text of Holder's prepared remarks. The Washington Post.

Presidential proclamation on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board.

Holder links immigration reform to Brown anniversary. "Attorney general Eric Holder used the anniversary of US school desegregation to call for a fresh push for immigration reform, saying it remains vital to reducing inequality among future generations of American children....His comments about immigration reform mark an unusual linkage of the civil rights movement and more recent efforts to ensure citizenship for the millions of undocumented, and mostly Latino, immigrants currently living under the threat of deportation." Dan Roberts in The Guardian.

Other legal reads:

Data: DHS freed thousands of criminal immigrants. Alicia A. Caldwell in the Associated Press.

How the Supreme Court decisions will shape policy, campaigns. David Hawkings in Roll Call.

Could this year be the one for a House reversal on medical marijuana? Emily Ethridge in Roll Call.

Administration rethinks use of local police for immigration enforcement. Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

BOLLINGER: We need a new Brown. "So here we are, sixty years after Brown....Popular referenda have become a favored shortcut to terminate affirmative-action programs; we have a constricted and decontextualized manner of discussing race and diversity in higher education; there is a leaderless public debate about these issues; and primary and secondary education is growing more segregated. This is a bleak and tragic picture, and it should be a reminder that we urgently need a more serious, realistic, and open discussion about race in the United States today. Along with it, we need a new movement like the one that led to Brown — before it is too late, and the issue vanishes." Lee C. Bollinger in The New Yorker.

THERNSTROM AND THERNSTROM: An American success story. "Mr. Orfield and his admirers do not regret the court's failure in 1954 to bar race-conscious public policies, of which they approve. They want more racially balanced schools and see Brown as a failed promise. But this comes from Mr. Orfield's problematic definition of segregation. In his view, any school in which various minority groups together constitute a majority of the student body is 'segregated.'...The core problem is a stunning transformation in the racial demography of the school-age population that has resulted from immigration and the differential fertility rates of immigrants and natives." Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom in The Wall Street Journal.

BRAZILE: Achievement is suffering. "In cities across the country, students of color increasingly attend schools that do not reflect the diversity of our national community....The result is that the achievement gap, which steadily decreased during integration, is widening as re-segregation occurs. Integrated schools help students achieve academic success in the present and personal success in the future....Unfortunately, many localities are embracing vouchers and charter schools as silver bullets for addressing persistent achievement gaps." Donna Brazile in CNN.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: The government saved Wall St. but left the economy behind. "Mr. Geithner can indeed blame much though not all of what went wrong on scorched-earth Republican obstructionism. But there’s also something else going on. In both Europe and America, economic policy has to a large extent been governed by the implicit slogan 'Save the bankers, save the world' — that is, restore confidence in the financial system and prosperity will follow....Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the promised prosperity." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

WEISSMANN: How the U.S. safety net shrank for the poorest of the poor. "Over the past several decades, the American safety net — that vast web of benefit programs aimed at helping low-income households in the U.S. — grew briskly. And yet, by at least one economist’s measure, our spending on the very poorest families dwindled. What happened? Bill Clinton happened, for one....The safety net was once designed to lend cash support to the very poorest Americans. Now, it mostly helps the moderately poor. The idea, again, was to encourage more work. But at a time when jobs are scarce, it feels like we have turned our backs on those who need help most." Jordan Weissmann in Slate.

THE ECONOMIST: The opposite of insurance. "Mian and Sufi...fault the Fed and the Treasury for lavishing money on banks to boost the supply of credit when the problem was demand....There are some flaws to this argument. Falling house prices and net worth help explain why employment started sinking in early 2008, but not why it went into free fall after the failure of Lehman Brothers. By examining only loans from banks to business, they ignore the contraction in consumer credit and in lending by other financial institutions. And had more banks been allowed to fail, the supply of credit would undoubtedly have shrunk further. But their broader point about the danger of debt is correct." The Economist.

VINIK: Rubio's smart Social Security plan puts ball in Democrats' court. "The four parts of his plan all have policy tradeoffs, but taken as a whole, it’s a smart proposal that liberals cannot ignore....As National Review’s Patrick Brennan points out, Social Security’s finances are deteriorating. We still have nearly two decades until the Social Security trust fund runs out, but that time can approach quickly....With the exception of a New America plan to massively expand Social Security...liberals have been quiet on the issue. Given the plan Rubio unveiled this week, they can’t afford to be much longer." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.

THOMPSON: Are student loans really holding back the recovery? "There is no doubt that student loans are destroying the lives of some young people. But it's surprisingly difficult to match the Obvious Story — $1.2 trillion of outstanding student loans is holding back the economy — to data that is equally obvious and compelling. The recovery is lukewarm, wages aren't growing, and housing and cars are expensive: For now, that seems to explain most of it." Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

CROVITZ: The Internet as a public utility? That didn't work well for railroads. "Decades ago, railroads and telephone companies fought hard against being declared public utilities. Their executives understood that the heavy hand of regulation was the beginning of the end for what had been highly innovative industries. (They soon got used to the monopolies created by overregulation, causing yet more harm to consumers.)...Consumers should recognize the danger in regulation of their Internet, and shareholders in Silicon Valley companies should ask why the supposedly brilliant technologists who run them think government control is a good idea." L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal.

LUCE: Obama's bet on natural gas throws caution to the wind. "As windfalls go, America’s natural gas boom verges on the biblical. Economists talk of a 'game changer'. Producers foresee a US manufacturing renaissance. Greens celebrate the death of King Coal. And strategists talk about a geopolitical trump card — not least in the west’s game of poker with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Hydraulic fracturing has opened up a supply of cheap and relatively clean gas for decades to come. At a time when the US is facing a set of otherwise bleak trends, it is as close as you get to a godsend. That, at least, is the assumption. But what if it is wrong?" Edward Luce in The Financial Times.

Life's ponderables interlude: How does food make us sick?

2. Meet Obama's new housing department nominee

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to be tapped to lead HUD. "President Obama has tapped San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a Cabinet reshuffling that would add a Hispanic to an administration that has faced criticism for not appointing more minorities to top jobs. Castro, who drew national attention when he gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, would take the spot now held by Shaun Donovan, who is set to become the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to Democratic officials familiar with the proposed moves." Holly Yeager and Ed O’Keefe in The Washington Post.

How Castro's nomination could boost his rising star. "President Barack Obama's expected nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as secretary of Housing and Urban Development could test the 39-year-old's ability to navigate Washington ahead of 2016 elections, Texas Democrats say. Since giving the 2012 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Castro's star has been on the rise, with his name often included among possible vice presidential contenders....If Julian Castro is nominated to preside over HUD and confirmed by the Senate, he would become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic officials in the Obama administration." Emily Schmall in the Associated Press.

Explainers:

What you need to know about Julián Castro. Emily Badger in The Washington Post.

5 challenges facing Shaun Donovan at OMB. Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Housing regulator says private lenders not ready to replace Fannie, Freddie. "The regulator of government-controlled mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said on Sunday he would not oppose them having a smaller presence in the market but private capital had to be ready to take over first. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt said the two companies, which own or guarantee about 60 percent of all U.S. home loans, needed to remain in the housing finance market to make sure it was liquid and resilient." Reuters.

Starts on new homes are up. But you can't buy them. "Builders were far more active in April than they were the previous month, applying for more permits to build and breaking ground on more homes in nearly every region of the country....But for anyone looking to buy a home and struggling to find options within their reach, the picture is not as rosy....The activity has been driven by what's known in the industry as the multi-family sector — for instance, large apartment buildings — rather than the single-family market....So why aren't builders rushing to build for-sale homes if survey after survey shows that the desire to own is still strong?...They fear the desire won't translate into demand." Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

What it means for the economy. "The concentration of home building activity in the multifamily sector means it is having less overall economic punch. Compared with single-family homes, apartments typically have less square footage and less expensive finishes, so the amount of labor and investment dollars that go into each one is lower. Moody’s Analytics estimates that each single-family home that is started creates 3.7 jobs over the ensuing year, compared with 1.8 jobs for each multifamily home. Add it all up, and traditional, suburban stand-alone houses — and the construction of them — appear poised to play a smaller role in the economy, and Americans’ living situations, for some time to come." Neil Irwin in The New York Times.

Explainers:

Charts: The spring thaw? The state of housing. Nick Timiraos in The Wall Street Journal.

Other economic/financial reads:

Rise in consumer debt suggests growing confidence. Floyd Norris in The New York Times.

Jobless-benefits negotiators may need to go back to the drawing board. Burgess Everett in Politico.

The most influential jobs bill you've never heard of. Fawn Johnson in National Journal.

Fed's rate-change system up for revamp. Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

The case against the Bernanke-Obama financial rescue. Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

Train interlude: What it's like to lie on tracks under an incoming train.

3. The health-care scandal that's making Democrats uneasy — and it doesn't involve Obamacare

What's the problem with the veterans' care system? "The Phoenix VA Health Care System is under a federal Justice Department investigation for reports that it maintained a secret waiting list to conceal the extent of its patient delays....But there are now clear signs that veterans' health centers across the U.S. are juggling appointments and sometimes manipulating wait lists to disguise long delays for primary and follow-up appointments....The growing evidence suggests a VA system with overworked physicians, high turnover and schedulers who are often hiding the extent to which patients are forced to wait for medical care." David Zucchino, Cindy Carcamo and Alan Zarembo in the Los Angeles Times.

Heads are now rolling — sort of. "The top health official at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned on Friday amid an unfolding scandal over treatment delays at veterans hospitals — a move that did little to satisfy the VA’s Republican critics because the health official was already slated to retire. VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel’s resignation came a day after he testified alongside VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before a Senate panel." Austin Wright in Politico.

The scandal may have just gotten even worse. "Add Albuquerque, New Mexico to the growing list of VA hospitals....And it may already be too late to get to the truth and find out what harm, if any, was done to veterans there — VA officials are already destroying records to cover their tracks, a whistleblower inside the hospital tells The Daily Beast....There’s no proof yet that veterans died while waiting for treatment, like what allegedly happened in Phoenix. But the doctor says it’s quite possible that some veterans would still be alive if they hadn’t been pushed through a record-keeping trap door that buried their requests." Jacob Siegel in The Daily Beast.

Why Democrats are fretting. "Democrats who believe they have emerged unscathed from the Republican focus on Benghazi and the IRS — which President Obama has described as a 'sideshow' — are not quite as confident about the burgeoning scandal at the Veterans Administration. As Congress opens hearings...the political threat is considered very real....The White House is braced for bipartisan criticism even as it cautions patience....The president has already dispatched one of his most trusted advisers, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to oversee the VA investigation." George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal.

Other health care reads:

Obama appoints an adviser to fix any leftover mess from botched ACA rollout. "President Obama on Friday appointed longtime White House aide Kristie Canegallo as deputy chief of staff for policy implementation, to oversee issues that include the continuing rollout of the Affordable Care Act and better integration of technology in classrooms. The move, which comes three days before senior White House health-care adviser Phil Schiliro will step down, aims to institutionalize some of the changes chief of staff Denis McDonough made in the wake of the health-care law’s botched debut last fall." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Another health care headache: Obamacare subsidies may be wrong for 1 million. "The government may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million Americans for their health plans in the new federal insurance marketplace and has been unable so far to fix the errors....The problem means that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are receiving bigger subsidies than they deserve. They are part of a large group of Americans who listed incomes on their insurance applications that differ significantly — either too low or too high — from those on file with the Internal Revenue Service, documents show." Amy Goldstein and Sandhya Somashekhar in The Washington Post.

Obamacare enrollment doesn't get any easier going forward. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Expanding experimental therapies to the dying gains support in the states. Peter Loftus and Dan Frosch in The Wall Street Journal.

Meet Obamacare's secret weapon in the war on exorbitant health costs. German Lopez in Vox.

Conservatives seek bigger fight over HHS nominee Burwell. Sam Baker in National Journal.

Animals interlude: Photos of a husky raised as a cat.

4. Here comes the climate crackdown you've all heard about

President Obama’s big carbon crackdown readies for launch. "The EPA will launch the most dramatic anti-pollution regulation in a generation early next month, a sweeping crackdown on carbon that offers President Barack Obama his last real shot at a legacy on climate change — while causing significant political peril for red-state Democrats. The move could produce a dramatic makeover of the power industry, shifting it away from coal-burning plants toward natural gas, solar and wind....The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule is aimed at scaling back carbon emissions from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases." Erica Martinson in Politico.

Long read: The coal plant to end all coal plants? Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

How Obama could try to go really big on the power plant rules. "People familiar with the discussions say the administration is seeking steep reductions — as much as 25 percent — that could be met if power plant owners expand renewable energy, improve the efficiency of their grids or encourage customers to use less power. There’s disagreement even within the administration about what’s allowable under the Clean Air Act, the law that gives it the authority to curb emissions....With Congress unlikely to act, the rules on carbon-dioxide emissions promise to be the backbone of U.S. action on global warming for years to come. Obama may even unveil the power plant rules himself." Mark Drajem, Jim Snyder and Jonathan Allen in Bloomberg.

Analysis: Obama's moment of environmental decision — and his legal dilemma. Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Administration tries to beat the clock on EPA rules. "White House records show there have been a flurry of meetings in recent weeks between administration officials and outside groups trying to influence the final language of EPA rules under construction. The activity is evidence that Obama’s push to combat global warming with regulation has entered a critical phase, with officials hammering out the details of rules that carry major implications for the environment and the economy." Ben Goad and Timothy Cama in The Hill.

Analysis: The politics of coal — uniting the right and splitting the left. The Economist.

Other energy/environmental reads:

Studies: Wildfires worse due to global warming. Seth Borenstein in the Associated Press.

Inside baseball interlude: Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) awesome reaction to Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt's homer.

5. Why privacy advocates are excited and worried about NSA reform

Privacy advocates are getting new friends in Congress. And that scares them. "Backers of major government-surveillance reform were stunned last week to see their favored legislation quickly clear two key hurdles in Congress after months of inertia. But...privacy hawks are warning that the bill in its current form may contain any number of loopholes or vaguely defined provisions that the National Security Agency could misinterpret to maintain its current spy powers — or justify the development of new ones. Adding to their worry is that the measure...is now publicly supported by some of the NSA's most forceful defenders." Dustin Volz in National Journal.

Advocates fear NSA bill is being gutted. "Privacy advocates are worried that a bill intended to reform the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) is being watered down before it heads to the House floor. 'Last stage negotiations' between members of the House and the Obama administration could significantly weaken provisions in the NSA bill, people familiar with the discussions say." Kate Tummarello in The Hill.

Other tech reads:

What to make of Obama's tepid response on net neutrality. Brian Fung in The Washington Post.

Did regulators break the Internet, or did they save it? Yes. Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times.

Net neutrality's little-known hero: Antonin Scalia. Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic.

Patent-reform bill is back in the Senate. Kate Tummarello in The Hill.

Science interlude: Could Godzilla actually exist?

Wonkblog roundup

What you need to know about Julián Castro, the likely next head of HUD. Emily Badger.

The OECD responds to our post on the IMF, defending its record. Matt O'Brien.

Builders are breaking ground on more homes. But you won’t be able to buy them. Dina ElBoghdady.

Obamacare enrollment doesn’t get any easier going forward. Jason Millman.

The odds you’ll join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Matt O'Brien.

Outbreaks of disease may not boost vaccination rates. Here’s why. Puneet Kollipara.

Eight surprising new findings on American exceptionalism. Christopher Ingraham.

Et Cetera

Why the tea party is so influential even though it's losing races: It's tugging the GOP rightward. Charles Babington in the Associated Press.

GOP leaders to block military immigration measure. Erica Werner and Donna Cassata in the Associated Press.

Government hits GM with record $35 million fine. David Shepardson and Melissa Burden in The Detroit News.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.

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