Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Real Power Resides in the Voice of the People

A citizen commented on the Pensacola News Journal Facebook page the other day that he thinks the referendum that asks citizens to surrender their right to vote for their superintendent will fail "because people rightly ask why would all this 'dark money' be contributed to a PAC on this issue."

While we agree with his sentiment generally, "dark money" as it applies to politics is actually money that is given in unlimited amounts by undisclosed donors.  Criticism of them centers around the influence that those vasts amounts of unattributed dollars exert over elections because of the resources that they bring to bear to shower the electorate with information that sometimes more closely resembles propaganda.

In the case of this referendum, however, there has been no "dark money" that we know of.  The $159,400 that has been donated to the PAC that is trying to influence voters to surrender their right to elect their superintendent is not technically "dark money."  Quint Studer's donation of $159,350 of that money is in the sunshine and is posted on the Florida Division of Elections web site for the public to see.  He has also made no secret of the fact that he founded the PAC himself; his operations and communications chief is also the chairman of the PAC.  All of that is very legal and above board.

Nevertheless, the author of that PNJ Facebook comment captured the concern that many voters are expressing about the dubious claims that it "is for the good of the children" and the suggestions "that really smart people know better than parents of kids in schools" about how their schools should be led.

That skepticism is very real, and we're reminded constantly of the elitist view that seems to look down on how we do things here.  Their sense that we're just a bunch of bumpkins out here voting for other bumpkins for superintendent was recently caricatured by the PNJ's editorial cartoonist Andy Marlette in his depiction of Escambia voters and school superintendent candidates as a pot-bellied guy named "Bubba," a buck-toothed gawky guy named "Skeeter," and a cross-eyed dog named "Lil' Bear."  It's Marlette's job to exaggerate for effect, but then the PAC distributed the cartoon on social media as part of its argument for why locals shouldn't elect locals for superintendent.  That's when the caricature became an insulting elitist political statement.

Voter skepticism has been further fueled by the PAC's rampant distortion of the facts and its bold assurances of a brighter day in Escambia education if citizens vote to surrender their right to vote for their superintendent.

For instance, the PAC knows that the statements that they've made that Escambia County's superintendent selection method is archaic because "99.5%" of the rest of the country is appointing their superintendents is grossly mischaracterized.  They've seen the data and they know that it is virtually impossible to accurately compare Florida school districts to others because of disparities in size, structure, and regional educational support, but they continue to feed citizens that misinformation in order to tell them that we're behind the times.  Why?  They've spent tens of thousands of dollars to put that information in front of the public; maybe they hope citizens won't know better.

Likewise, although they're fully aware that the last three Florida school districts that made the move to an appointed superintendent have not fared well with the change at all, they continue to tell us that if we appoint our superintendent rather than elect him or her, we'll see better results.  Then, although they realize that there is data and information that shows great success in our schools, they focus on only one data point as if it is the only indicator of student and school district performance.  They also know that there are at least four reputable data-based studies that have demonstrated that whether a superintendent is elected or appointed has no bearing on student performance.  It doesn't matter if they were selected from a nationwide search, it doesn't matter if they have a doctorate, and it doesn't matter how much we pay them.  None of it has a bearing because there are core factors that DO bear on student performance, and how we select our superintendent isn't one of them.

People who have been drawn to this issue are asking why our elected government officials don't do something about those core factors – especially the pockets of poverty in the communities where our lower performing students reside - instead of leaving it to classroom teachers and principals to deal with alone.  They know where those pockets of poverty are, but they haven't demonstrated the leadership that our community needs to CURE the cyclical poverty that DIRECTLY harms student performance and growth potential in the first place.  Why don't they pour tax dollars and real effort into resolving them instead of REDUCING the funding for critical infrastructure in those communities then pointing a finger at the school district as if it has failed those communities?  It's easier to jump on a bandwagon than it is to lead.

Our republic owes its character and success to the voice of the people expressed at the ballot box, not to the powerful interests that want to suppress that voice or drown it in a flood of misleading marketing material.  We make our republic stronger by showing that the real power resides in the hands of the people.

This Tuesday on November 6th, "Vote NO on Losing Control" of your right to elect your superintendent.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Apples to Oranges

The political action committee (PAC) that's pushing the referendum that asks Escambia County citizens to surrender their right to vote for their superintendent has been telling voters that 99.5% of the nation's school districts appoint their superintendents.  They use that data point to tell us that since virtually all other school districts in the country appoint their superintendents, Escambia County's method of selecting its superintendent by voter ballot is antiquated and "archaic."

The impression that we're left with is that nearly all of the school districts across the nation are foregoing the "elected" format in favor of what the PAC says is the more enlightened "appointed" format.  We citizens then assume from what they're saying that school districts nationwide are fairly comparable in their structure, size, composition, and support apparatus, and that the chief difference between the Escambia County School District and 99.5% of the others is the method by which we select our superintendent.  They lead us to the conclusion that it is that factor - changing the method by which we select our superintendent - that is the prime catalyst for education growth and success.

It turns out, however, that's not the case.  They're comparing apples to oranges.

States that include California, Arizona, and Montana, for instance, have a two-tiered district structure in which citizens ELECT the overwhelming majority of their county superintendents.  The county superintendents oversee appointed "local" district superintendents who preside over smaller geographic areas of the county.  Thus, the roughly 1,700 local district superintendents in those three states are appointed by their local school boards or county boards, but most of the superintendents who oversee education at the county level in those states are elected, as is the case here in Escambia County.

Looking at California, 53 of the state's 58 county superintendents are elected by the citizens to oversee the state's "local" school districts, which number around 1,000 school districts for the state's 58 counties. [1]

Although there are 53 elected county superintendents in California, if a civil grand jury in Santa Clara County has its way, that number will rise to 54.  Just 4 months ago, the grand jury recommended that the county change from an appointed county superintendent to an elected one in part because of the high turnover of appointed superintendents there:  5 superintendents in the past 11 years.  The grand jury also found that "an inherent tension exists between appointed superintendents and the appointing BOE" (board of education).  The finding also stated that the Santa Clara County school board had often exceeded its authority by encroaching into the day-to-day management of the school district which is the superintendent's domain.  The report observed that the challenge for the superintendent, who has independent constitutional and statutory authority as he or she does in Florida, is the need to appease the board which has the authority to terminate the superintendent's "at will" employment. [2]

Like California, Arizona and Montana also have county superintendents who are elected by the people to oversee local school districts.  The people of Arizona elect 15 county superintendents and Montana voters elect 56. [3] [4]

Then, there's New Jersey which also has county superintendents, 21 of them.  However,  they are all appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate.  New Jersey's more than 500 local superintendents report to them. [5]

There are variations of that oversight structure in other states like Illinois which has 56 regional superintendents who oversee their more than 800 local school districts and superintendents.  Illinois' regional superintendents are elected to their positions by the citizens. [6]

Unlike those states and others that are similar to them, Florida school districts - including the Escambia County School District - do not have subordinate "local" school districts within their large county systems.  The absence of the additional structure above and below Florida's large county-wide school districts also explains why Escambia County's school district, with its 40,000 students, is larger than 99% of school districts nationwide, one of several reasons that objective comparisons of hierarchical structures are difficult to make.  Here in Florida, more than 61% of the school districts elect their school district superintendent.

Additionally, most states have regional cooperative educational service centers or alliances that provide a range of cooperative educational services to groups of local school districts so the local school districts can focus more on classroom education, but Florida school districts do not.  The fact that most U. S. school districts are able to leverage that kind of resource is significant to their operations and organizational structure.

The table below illustrates the effect of that smaller local structure on the scope of school district work at that level.  It reveals that the five states mentioned earlier - California, Arizona, Montana, Illinois, and New Jersey - all benefit from their structure in that they have a higher average number of school districts per county and a lower average number of students served by their school districts than Florida has.  Also included in the table is data for Wisconsin which has been referenced by supporters of the referendum for comparison.  The contrast between these states and Florida in this regard is striking.


So, when the PAC that's pushing this referendum says that 99.5% of school districts have appointed superintendents, they're trying to compare apples to oranges.  The structure, size, composition, and support services apparatus here in Florida are vastly different than they are in every other state.  We know that in the real world of school district operations, those and many other factors matter.


Notes


Friday, October 19, 2018

Good Old "Grassroots" Power Politics

I was listening to a radio advertisement sponsored by the interest group that is advocating for citizens to give up their right to elect their superintendent this morning and I was intrigued by the strong words in the ad:  "52nd isn't going to cut it," "We will take the politics out of education," and so on.

They're running that ad, they're putting that kind of language in their internet material, and they're flooding our mailboxes with flyers with that kind of commentary in it.  But the striking thing about the group's messaging is the fact that even as they're absolutely savaging the current superintendent's and school board's record, they're very careful to say that they LOVE our superintendent and the school board members and think that they have just done such a great job.  They just LOVE the job they have done, but then they distort their record so they can put it in a negative light in order to make political points.  So much for "We will take the politics out of education."

Escambia County citizens who have been following the debate on this issue are aware that the group that is behind this marketing material KNOWS that the data they're citing has a flip side that tells a different - or at least a more balanced - story.  This group also KNOWS that there is absolutely no proof that changing the way we select our superintendent has a bearing on student or school district performance, but they jam that data at the citizens and call it "proof" anyway, as if it does.

I've said it before; let me say it again. Whether the superintendent is appointed or elected is NOT a predictor of student or school district performance.  Studies that have been conducted by more esteemed and resourced people and institutions than I have made that point.  There are many other factors that ARE predictors, but the way we select our superintendent isn't one of them.

Consider this data to see how far they're going in order to give citizens the wrong impression about this issue:

  • While they point out the school district's ranking, they ignore the fact that 12 of the top 20 Florida school districts (60%) - all "A" school districts - have school superintendents who were elected by the citizens (FDOE data).  Again, this data doesn't tell us whether electing or appointing a superintendent is the best way to go, but it does show how skewed the data is behind the effort to convince citizens to give up their right to vote.
  • Here's another Florida Department of Education data point that proponents of the appointed superintendent format don't acknowledge: 40% of Florida's "A" school districts have appointed superintendents.  However, that percentage was much higher just 8 years ago.  In 2010, 55% of Florida's "A" schools had appointed superintendents, but by 2015, that percentage fell to 48%, then it fell again to 40% in 2018.  Therefore, over that same period, the percentage of "A" Florida school districts in which the citizens elect their superintendent rose from 45% in 2010 to 52% in 2015, then again to 60% in 2018.
  • Then, when we look at average Florida school district grades on a 5-point grade scale ("A" = 5; "F" = 1), we see that the average school district grade in 2018 for school districts that have ELECTED superintendents is 4.0.  The average school district grade for school districts that have APPOINTED superintendents is 4.1.  One-tenth of a point separates the two approaches to selecting a superintendent!
  • We know where the Escambia County School District ranks in terms of state standardized test score performance, but what we aren't being told in these ads is that most Florida school districts have improved in their state standardized test performance since the 2015-16 school year by an average of 8.6%.  Escambia County has improved its score over that period by 10%.  That is a larger improvement than 20 of the 26 Florida school districts that have appointed superintendents have made.  Only 4 Florida school districts that have appointed superintendents made a more substantial improvement during that period.
  • What about the Escambia County graduation rate?  Since the 2012-13 school year, the graduation rate in the Escambia County School District has risen from 64.2% to 79.5%.  There is every indication that the most recent graduation rate for Escambia County is over 80%; watch for it.  That's extraordinary.
  • The group also knows that while they say that moving to an appointed superintendent format allows us to cast a wider net for candidates, 17 of the 26 appointed Florida superintendents - almost two-thirds of them - were hired from within their school district staffs, not from somewhere else.  Why?  Florida school districts are among the largest and most complex in the country, and they like to have a superintendent who knows Florida and local education-related issues and nuances.  This isn't Wisconsin where the average ratio of school districts to counties is 6:1; the ratio in Florida is 1:1.
  • And here is one more data point that throws off every myth about how the people feel about the state of education leadership in Escambia County.  The Pensacola Young Professionals' 2018 Quality of Life Community Report includes the results of a survey of 800 registered Pensacola voters.  The survey results show that the Escambia County governmental figure or entity that has the highest favorable rating (Excellent to Good rating) is the Escambia County School District Superintendent (55%). The second highest favorable rating was awarded to the Escambia County School Board (49%).  Again, the polling included only Pensacola residents so we suspect the favorable numbers would be even higher outside of the city limits.  What body is near the bottom of the list?  The Escambia County Commission.  It has a 39% Excellent to Good rating. (They might be able to boost their rating by funding sidewalks and lighting in the neighborhoods where our students live!)

People must be wondering why the activists who are supporting the change in the way we select our superintendent say that they LOVE the way the superintendent and the school board have done their jobs, but then they rattle off a litany of one-sided data points in order to tell citizens that they and the district aren't getting the job done.  The answer is simple.  They want a specific outcome and they want us to believe that the data that they cite is proof of the need for change, but they don't want to alienate the superintendent, the school board, or the citizens of Escambia County who know the kind of job they have done.  They have said repeatedly and in a number of different ways that citizens should not elect the superintendent because we're not engaged enough to make that choice.  Maybe they really believe that, and maybe they also believe that we're not engaged enough to know the other side of the story.

For a group that says it's a grassroots organization that wants to take the politics out of our schools, their strategy is a very political one, pushed out in a very expensive advertising campaign, and funded and backed by a very powerful bundle of interest groups. (But they just LOVE the job the current school district superintendent and school board have done!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Data Danger in the Appointed Superintendent Debate

A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  Sometimes, a logical fallacy erupts as a debate tactic and at other times, it emerges innocently through a simple failure to properly connect the logical dots.  The argument in support of an appointed superintendent in Florida, while well-meaning for the most part contains logical fallacies that citizens should watch for.

Citizens are receiving flyers in their mail and some are seeing posts on web sites and on social media that associate Escambia County's standardized test score ranking with the fact that the county elects its superintendent rather than appoint him or her.  The not-so-subtle implication is that the ranking is due to the fact that the citizens of Escambia County elect their superintendent rather than leave it to three school board members to appoint them.

Of course, they cite the most dramatic data that shows the school district in its worst light with respect to the rest of the state, then they arrive at the conclusion that since many school districts of a size similar to Escambia have higher test scores and also have appointed superintendents, there must be a connection.

However, that false cause-and-effect connection ignores the studies that have established that whether a superintendent is elected or appointed is not a predictor of student or district performance or success.

Making that flawed causal connection is the logical fallacy, just as it would be a logical fallacy for those on the other side of the debate to claim that since 60% of Florida's "A" school districts have elected superintendents, having an elected superintendent is the superior approach.

Since we can't conclude much from that data that establishes a causal linkage to how we select our superintendent, we wonder if there is data that we can use, data that is accurate and relevant?

Maybe we can consider trend data.  Is it possible and is it relevant to look at ALL school districts that have elected superintendents and compare their performance trends to ALL school districts that have appointed superintendents?  Can we learn anything from examining "right direction/wrong direction," trend data?  Maybe so.

As we've seen from Florida Department of Education (FDOE) data, 60% of Florida's "A" school districts are led by elected superintendents.  That leaves 40% of "A" school districts being led by appointed superintendents.  If the appointed superintendent format was the superior way to select a superintendent, it seems that trends would favor that approach.

However, that 40% figure for school districts that are led by appointed superintendents is DOWN from where it was just 8 years ago.  In 2010, 55% of Florida's 26 "A" school districts had APPOINTED superintendents.  In 2015, that percentage fell to 48% of Florida's 21 "A" school districts.  Then, in 2018, their share dropped again to 40% of Florida's 20 "A" school districts.

So, as the percentage of "A" school districts that have APPOINTED superintendents has trended downward over the past 8 years, the percentage of school districts that have ELECTED superintendents has trended upward by the same amount.

Then, when we look at average school district grades on a 5-point grade scale ("A" = 5; "F" = 1), we see that the average school district grade in 2018 for school districts that have ELECTED superintendents is 4.0.  The average school district grade for school districts that have APPOINTED superintendents is 4.1.  One-tenth of a point separates the two approaches to selecting a superintendent!

Looking further, the trend that we saw with "A" school districts follows school district grade averages.

In 2010, the average grade for all school districts that APPOINT their superintendent was 4.6, but in 2015 the average grade slipped to 4.3, then it fell again to 4.1 in 2018.  On the other hand, the average grade for all school districts that ELECT their superintendent rose from 3.9 in 2010 and 2015 to 4.0 in 2018.

By the way, Escambia is a "B" school district.  The school district ranks near the bottom of the state's "B" schools, but it's still a "B" school district.  We want our school district to do better, for sure.  We want it to be an "A" district, but we have a district that has been working hard and improving over the past decade or so.  As we've seen, that progress is important.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

6 BIG Reasons to Vote NO on an Appointed Superintendent

Before Escambia County citizens surrender their authority and right to choose their superintendent to three school board members (the majority of a five-member school board), they must know the facts behind the choice.

1.  No Student Performance Benefit

Whether a superintendent is hired by the citizens through an election or hired by the school board through an appointment, neither by itself is a predictor of student success or school district performance as illustrated by 2017-18 Florida Department of Education (FDOE) data that shows that 60% of Florida’s top 20 school districts – all of them “A” school districts – and 52% of the school districts that have a graduation rate of 80% or higher all have elected superintendents.

2.  Education Level of Superintendents Not a Factor

The fact that 70% of Florida’s “A” school districts and 76% of Florida’s “B” school districts (including Escambia County) are led by superintendents who do not hold doctorates in education proves that the data does not support the suggestion that superintendents who hold EdD degrees produce better results.

3.  Preserve Checks and Balances

The Escambia County School District currently has a leadership structure that includes an elected executive (the superintendent) and an elected legislative body (the school board) which has successfully leveraged a system of checks and balances to protect Escambia citizens from abuse and corruption.  An elected superintendent is accountable to the same people that the elected school board is accountable to:  the people of Escambia County.  With a board-appointed superintendent there would be NO checks and balances because the superintendent would be controlled by the school board, not counter-balanced by it.

4.  Keep Politics Out of Our Schools

Assertions that campaign contributions make the superintendent “beholden to wealthy contributors instead of focusing on our teachers and students” ignores the fact that an elected superintendent is no more susceptible to donor influence than elected school board members.

Furthermore, citizens should be aware that having an appointed superintendent can actually be MORE political than having an elected superintendent.  School board members can intimidate, threaten, and harbor ill will toward superintendents who don’t champion or accommodate their personal causes, issues, and wants.  That political pressure can easily find its way into schools through principals and into departments through department heads who can be left in the difficult position of reconciling competing political interests and directives at the expense of otherwise consistent, apolitical district-wide practices.

Here in Escambia County, we have seen through the experiences of County government that having appointed executives is not always the most effective, most orderly, and least political approach.  The county went through 7 county administrators (including interim administrators) between 1998 and 2012, including 4 between 2008 and 2012.

Although the Escambia County School Board is stable today, many Escambia citizens remember that the Escambia County School Board itself has had its share of embarrassment when power plays, internal politics, and drama among school board members made headlines.

5.  Appointed Superintendents are Expensive

The salaries of appointed superintendents in Florida are generally significantly higher than the salaries of their elected counterparts.  In fact, the average base salary for appointed superintendents in 2017-18 was nearly $100,000 more than for their elected peers.  In school districts that are already struggling to make budgets meet their needs, one must ask whether paying a lot of money to an appointed superintendent is worth the cost, particularly in view of the fact that there is no evidence that appointing a superintendent improves school district performance.  Taxpayers should be concerned that having a board-appointed superintendent would likely cost them at least $1 million more in superintendent salary over the next ten years.

6.  Citizens Should Be a Part of School District Solutions

So-called “low performing” and “failing” schools do not owe their outcomes exclusively to the leadership of the school district and to the principals and teachers at individual schools. 

Teachers and administrators absolutely must be accountable, but the term “failing schools” does not sufficiently describe what is happening in our most challenging schools.  Rather than simply saying that there is a problem with “failing schools,” a more apt characterization would acknowledge the “failing situations” that are exposed in our schools, not caused by them.  Those failing situations impact standardized test scores which determine school and district grades.  The failing situations are the core problem; they are what we should be solving.

Certainly, the citizens of Escambia County must be a part of the solution, not apart from it.  To that end, they should vote “NO” on the costly ballot item that would require them to surrender to three members of the school board their right and authority to choose their district superintendent.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Who Was Richard B. Russell, Namesake of the Russell Senate Office Building?

With the recent passing of Senator John McCain, there has been much discussion of renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain. As the public becomes more familiar with the current namesake of the building, the question some might raise is why it has taken so long to re-name it for someone else.

Senator Richard B. Russell was a democrat United States Senator from the state of Georgia and President Pro Tempore of the Senate when he died in office at the age of 73. He served in the Senate for more than half his life (38 years) and before that, he served as Governor of Georgia and as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. He spent 50 of his 73 years in politics.

What makes the naming of the Russell Building after Senator Russell in 1972 noteworthy is his place in the history of United States civil rights and the timing of the naming of the building relative to what was generally viewed as the end of an ugly chapter in American history seven years earlier in 1965.

The 100 years leading to 1965 was plagued by rampant institutional racism and segregation, but Senator Russell stood squarely opposed to any change of course throughout his political career.

In 1956, Senator Russell co-authored the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" (also known as the "Southern Manifesto") in opposition to racial integration in public places. The manifesto, signed by 101 mostly-southern congressmen (99 democrats and 2 republicans), was written in response to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision which took much of the starch out of the Court's 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision which legitimized the separate but equal segregationist doctrine.

A year later, Russell opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which was advocated by President Eisenhower and created the six-member Commission on Civil Rights and established the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. It also authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek court injunctions against the deprivation and obstruction of voting rights by state officials.

Three years later, the Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1960 which expanded the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and introduced criminal penalties for obstructing the implementation of federal court orders. It also required voting and registration records for federal elections to be preserved. Senator Russell voted against this act as well.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and schools, created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor employment discrimination in public and private sectors, and provided additional capacities to enforce voting rights. Of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Russell said, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states." The "we" to which Senator Russell was referring was a bloc of 18 Southern senators (17 democrats and 1 republican) who filibustered the bill in the Senate for 60 days in an attempt to block the legislation through Senate rules.

Nonetheless, the bill which had been envisioned by President Kennedy and was carried on in his honor by President Johnson, prevailed in the Senate and was subsequently signed into law by Johnson. In response, Russell led a southern boycott of the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the last of the series of civil rights laws that had been approved over a span of eight years between 1957 and 1965. These laws were essentially designed to finally close loopholes and enforce the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments which provided citizenship and voting rights for native-born and naturalized African-Americans a century before.

Senator Russell voted against all four of those key acts of Congress.

Russell was selected to serve as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and President pro temporare of the Senate in 1969, he died in 1971, and the Senate Office Building was named for him in 1972.

So, at a time when there is an indiscriminate rush to topple confederate statues and monuments whether they were associated with the South's Jim Crow past or not, here we have a federal government building that is named for a dedicated segregationist who did everything he could throughout his lengthy career in public office to defeat the civil rights laws that were intended to reverse 100 years of institutional racism, even after slavery had been abolished by the 13th Amendment.

Some have explained Russell's actions as simply a matter of him being a product of his environment and times. History is replete with examples where that is true of others, but in this case, there was a century of legal authority that Russell and others before him dedicated their lives to defying. If Russell were merely a man - a regular citizen - in that time and place, that would be one thing, albeit still racist. However, Russell spent his adult life as the leader of a movement and as a leader and mentor in the United States Senate; in that context, he had a duty to rise above his time and place and lead righteously.

The decision to name the Russell Senate Office Building after Senator McCain is a no-brainer.  It should have never been named for Russell in the first place.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

So Much Accomplished; So Much Left To Do

While there remains a good deal of work to do with respect to civil rights in the United States, it's a mistake to ignore the progress the country has made on that front over the past 150 years. Beginning with the anti-slavery momentum that mounted before the Civil War, our history has been marked with advances and set-backs in Congress, in local laws, and even in the Supreme Court, but on the whole we’ve seen tremendous improvements.

We have come a long way from days of the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866 when local laws were written to impose draconian restrictions on recently liberated slaves, and essentially reimposed slavery but under different parameters. Gone are the Jim Crow laws that created a separate but equal landscape in the South and a Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson that ruled that those laws didn't violate the Constitution. Although Plessy v Ferguson has never been explicitly overturned by the Court, the High Court's Brown v Education decision 60 years later held that the separate but equal doctrine was not Constitutional when applied to schools, and that took a lot of the starch out of the separate but equal doctrine.

After years of blatant racism and discrimination after Reconstruction, sometimes implicitly and at other times explicitly supported in laws and by state courts, the United States entered what has been referred to as "The Second Reconstruction Era" that ended with a flurry of civil rights laws passed by Congress between 1957 and 1965, culminating with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that effectively shut down the loopholes and exploitation that had occurred since the Civil War.

A study of the acts of Congress over the 100 tumultuous years between the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, their purposes, and the evolving lines of partisanship in Congressional voting shows the how the heart of the nation matured in a very meaningful way. The change in the Democratic Party over those years is particularly noteworthy. After providing minimal support for the 13th Amendment in 1864, Democrat congressmen and senators failed to contribute a single vote for civil rights legislation for nearly another 100 years until 1957, a stretch that included seven bills that became law without their votes in support of them. That included votes on the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments that provided citizenship for American-born African-Americans and provided them the right to vote.

The true sense of the people, however, is apparent in the public support for the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments that required the support of the citizens or their representatives in 3/4 of the States for inclusion in the U. S. Constitution.

Again, there is still much work to do, but we shouldn't allow anyone to convince us that there has not been substantive and extraordinary improvement on the civil rights front in this country. To see it any other way is to ignore the reality of history which has included quite a lot of hardship, sacrifice, and courage.



13th Amendment
Abolished slavery and involuntary servtitude, except as punishment for a crime.

House of Representatives - June 15, 1864
95 yea, 66 nay, 21 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - failed)
Republicans 77 yea, 1 nay, 5 not voting
Democrats 4 yea, 59 nay, 9 not voting
Others 14 yea, 6 nay, 7 not voting

Senate April 8, 1864
38 yea, 6 nay, 5 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 34 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting
Democrats 3 yea, 6 nay, 3 not voting
Others 1 yea, 0 nay, 2 not voting

House of Representatives January 31, 1865
119 yea, 56 nay, 8 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 84 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting
Democrats 14 yea, 50 nay, 8 not voting
Others 21 yea, 6 nay, 0 not voting

-----

Civil Rights Act of 1866
Guaranteed the rights of all citizens to make and enforce contracts and to purchase, sell, or lease property. Passed by the 39th Congress (1865-1867) as S.R. 61. (The bill also guaranteed equal benefits and access to the law which was aimed at the Black Codes passed by many post-war states.)

House of Representatives March 13, 1866
111 yea, 38 nay, 34 not voting
Republicans 106 yea, 1 nay, 25 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 32 nay, 8 not voting
Other 5 yea, 5 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 2, 1866 (Vote to amend SR61 to deny blacks the right to vote)
7 yea, 39 nay, 4 not voting
Republicans 1 yea, 35 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 6 yea, 4 nay, 2 not voting
Other 0 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 2, 1866
33 yea, 12 nay, 5 not voting
Republicans 33 yea, 2 nay, 2 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 10 nay, 2 not voting
Other 0 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

This bill was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but his veto was overridden in the House and Senate and became law.

Vote to override President Johnson's veto of SR61

House of Representatives April 9, 1866
122 yea, 41 nay, 21 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 117 yea, 2 nay, 15 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 33 nay, 6 not voting
Other 5 yea, 6 nay

Senate April 6, 1866
33 yea, 15 nay, 1 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 32 yea, 4 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 11 nay, 0 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting

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14th Amendment
Declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or deny any person equal protection of the laws.

House of Representatives June 13, 1866
137 yea, 37 nay, 9 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 127 yea, 0 nay, 6 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 37 nay, 2 not voting
Other 10 yea, 0 nay, 1 not voting

Senate June 8, 1866
33 yea, 11 nay, 5 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 32 yea, 3 nay, 2 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 8 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 0 not voting

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15th Amendment
Forbade any state to deprive a citizen of his vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

House of Representatives February 25, 1869
141 yea, 44 nay, 35 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 141 yea, 3 nay, 27 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 39 nay, 7 not voting
Other 2 yea, 2 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 26, 1869
39 yea, 13 nay, 14 not voting (required 2/3 for passage - passed)
Republicans 39 yea, 4 nay, 13 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 9 nay, 1 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1870 (also known as Enforcement Act of 1870 or First Ku Klux Klan Act)
Prohibited discrimination in voter registration on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Established penalties for interfering with a person’s right to vote. Gave federal courts the power to enforce the act and to employ the use of federal marshals and the army to uphold it.

House of Representatives May 16, 1870
133 yea, 58 nay, 39 not voting
Republicans 132 yea, 1 nay, 30 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 54 nay, 8 not voting
Other 1 yea, 3 nay, 1 not voting

Senate May 16, 1870
48 yea, 11 nay, 13 not voting
Republicans 45 yea, 1 nay, 10 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 10 nay, 1 not voting
Other 3 yea, 0 nay, 2 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as Second Ku Klux Klan Act)
Placed all elections in both the North and South under federal control. Allowed for the appointment of election supervisors by federal circuit judges. Authorized U.S. Marshals to employ deputies to maintain order at polling places.

House of Representatives February 15, 1871
144 yea, 64 nay, 32 not voting
Republicans 143 yea, 3 nay, 22 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 58 nay, 9 not voting
Other 1 yea, 3 nay, 1 not voting

Senate February 25, 1871
39 yea, 10 nay, 24 not voting
Republicans 38 yea, 1 nay, 16 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 7 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 2 nay, 5 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as Third Ku Klux Klan Act)
Enforced the 14th Amendment by guaranteeing all citizens of the United States the rights afforded by the Constitution and provided legal protection under the law.

House of Representatives April 19, 1871
93 yea, 74 nay, 63 not voting
Republicans 92 yea, 0 nay, 36 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 73 nay, 25 not voting
Other 1 yea, 1 nay, 2 not voting

Senate April 19, 1871
36 yea, 13 nay, 20 not voting
Republicans 35 yea, 2 nay, 13 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 11 nay, 3 not voting
Other 1 yea, 0 nay, 4 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1875
Barred discrimination in public accommodations and on public conveyances on land and water. Prohibited exclusion of African Americans from jury duty.

House of Representatives February 4, 1875
162 yea, 100 nay, 27 not voting
Republicans 161 yea, 12 nay, 21 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 84 nay, 6 not voting
Others 1 yea, 4 nay, 0 not voting

Senate February 27, 1875
38 yea, 26 nay, 9 not voting
Republicans 38 yea, 4 nay, 7 not voting
Democrats 0 yea, 18 nay, 1 not voting
Others 0 yea, 4 nay, 1 not voting

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Civil Rights Act of 1957
Created the six-member Commission on Civil Rights and established the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. Authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek court injunctions against deprivation and obstruction of voting rights by state officials.

House of Representatives February 4, 1875
286 yea, 126 nay, 9 present, 13 not voting
Republicans 167 yea, 19 nay, 5 present, 8 not voting
Democrats 119 yea, 107 nay, 4 present, 5 not voting

Senate August 7, 1957
72 yea, 18 nay, 1 present, 4 not voting
Republicans 43 yea, 0 nay, 1 present, 2 not voting
Democrats 29 yea, 18 nay, 0 present, 2 not voting

Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond filibustered the bill for more than 24 hours in an attempt to kill the bill. The filibuster failed.

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Civil Rights Act of 1960
Expanded the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and introduced criminal penalties for obstructing the implementation of federal court orders. Extended the Civil Rights Commission for two years. Required that voting and registration records for federal elections be preserved.

House of Representatives April 21, 1960
288 yea, 95 nay, 25 present, 22 not voting
Republicans 123 yea, 12 nay, 12 present, 4 not voting
Democrats 165 yea, 82 nay, 13 present, 18 not voting
Others 0 yea, 1 nay, 0 present, 0 not voting

Senate April 8, 1960
71 yea, 18 nay, 11 not voting
Republicans 29 yea, 0 nay, 6 not voting
Democrats 42 yea, 18 nay, 5 not voting

In a special February 1959 message to Congress on the subject of civil rights, President Eisenhower supported civil rights legislation and proposed seven actions to protect the civil rights of Americans:

  • strengthen the law to confront the use or threats of force regarding school desegregation cases
  • give the FBI more investigative authority in the case of crimes involving the destruction or attempted destruction of schools or churches
  • give the Attorney General power to inspect Federal election records and to preserve those records as necessary for inspection
  • provide a temporary program of financial and technical aid to adjust to school desegregation decisions
  • temporarily authorize a provision for the education of children of members of the Armed Forces when State-administered public schools have been closed because of desegregation decisions or orders
  • consider establishing a statutory Commission on Equal Job Opportunity under Government Contracts
  • extend the life of the Civil Rights Commission for an additional two years
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Civil Rights Act of 1964
Prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, and schools. Outlawed discrimination in federally funded projects. Created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to monitor employment discrimination in public and private sectors. Provided additional capacities to enforce voting rights. Extended the Civil Rights Commission for four years.

House of Representatives February 10, 1964
290 yea, 130 nay, 5 present, 6 not voting
Republicans 138 yea, 34 nay, 1 present, 4 not voting
Democrats 152 yea, 96 nay, 4 present, 2 not voting

Senate June 19, 1964
73 yea, 21 nay
Republicans 26 yea, 6 nay
Democrats 46 yea, 21 nay

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supported by President Kennedy, then by President Johnson. When the bill came before the full Senate for debate on March 30, 1964, Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) led a "Southern Bloc," consisting of 18 southern Democratic Senators and one Republican Senator and launched a filibuster to prevent the bill's passage. Russell said, "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states." The filibuster lasted for 60 days. (Incidently, the Russell Senate Office Building which has been proposed for renaming for John McCain was named for the leader of the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Richard Russell.)

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Voting Rights Act of 1965
Suspended the use of literacy tests and voter disqualification devices for five years. Authorized the use of federal examiners to supervise voter registration in states that used tests or in which less than half the voting-eligible residents registered or voted. Directed the U.S. Attorney General to institute proceedings against use of poll taxes. Provided criminal penalties for individuals who violated the act.

House of Representatives August 3, 1965
328 yea, 74 nay, 31 not voting
Republicans 110 yea, 20 nay, 10 not voting
Democrats 218 yea, 54 nay, 21 not voting

Senate August 4, 1965
79 yea, 18 nay, 3 not voting
Republicans 30 yea, 1 nay, 1 not voting
Democrats 49 yea, 16 nay, 2 not voting