Why Equal Pay Day Must Be Taken Seriously

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Everyone’s heard this statistic: for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only makes 78 cents. Created in 1996 to draw attention to the wage gap, Equal Pay Day – which is today – always falls on a Tuesday to represent how far into the week women must work to earn what their male counterparts made the week before. If that doesn’t cause you to pause, think about this: April marks how far into the year that women must work to earn what men made the previous year.

Women face the wage gap in all 50 states and in almost every occupation. For example, education administration is a female-dominated field where male administrators continue to earn more than their female counterparts. According to a White House fact sheet on the gender wage gap, the wage gap cannot be explained even when controlling for education, experience, hours, or industry.

Seventy-six percent of women work in the top 10 low-wage occupations. More than half of all women work sales, service, or clerical jobs. Low-income women of color are significantly more likely to be employed in service, low-income, and physically demanding jobs. African-American women make up roughly 5.9 percent of the workforce, but comprise 29 percent of nurses and home health workers, and immigrant women comprise nearly 45 percent of the maid and house-cleaning workforce.

The wage gap not only hurts women and low-income communities of color, but also families. African-American women make 64 cents and Latina women only earn 54 cents for every dollar White males earn. Women of color are more likely to be the sole provider of household income and live below the poverty line compared to their White female counterparts. A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that eliminating the wage gap would lower the poverty rate for single, working mothers from 28.7 percent to 15 percent. Gender discrimination exacerbates the wage gap and intensifies poverty among women and families.

So what’s being done to combat it? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for “substantially equal” work, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Yet, as with most laws, there are loopholes. Lawmakers in Congress reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act on March 25. This bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing their wage information with others, fully compensate victims of sex-based discrimination, eliminate a large loophole favoring employers, and improve data collection on wage information. In an era of partisanship, it’s time for Congress to make a bipartisan stand for equal pay.

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Bus Rider Shelia Williams Brings Community Perspective to Memphis Transit Board

By Courtney Hutchison, Senior Communications Associate, Policy Link

Shelia Williams, a 38-year-old single mother of five, was putting herself through college in Memphis, Tennessee, when the city cut the only bus route that she could take to get to school.

“I almost failed my classes — it was a huge obstacle for me to complete my degree without a way to get to school,” Williams said. “Here I am attempting to get this degree so I can better support my family, and public transit in our city can’t even provide me what I need to make that life transformation.”

For the 7.5 million households in metropolitan areas without a car, public transportation is an essential bridge to opportunity. It determines where they can find work, where they can go to school, whether they can access vital things like doctors’ appointments and grocery stores. This integral link between public transit and the ability to thrive is not always an obvious one, however, especially for those who have never had to rely on these systems.

This is why having transit-dependent community members in decision-making positions for transportation is so transformative.

For Shelia Williams, who had been a founding member of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, becoming a member of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Board of Commissioners was a game-changer for the way her city looked at public transportation issues. After being identified by the Mayor’s Office as board candidate in 2014, in June she joined this nine-person group, which votes on MATA’s budget, routes, schedules, fares, and vendor contracts. She is the only transit-dependent member on the board.

“When you have someone who is transit-dependent and is really passionate about public transit [coming] to the table with other decisionmakers, that’s when you start to see a shift,” Williams said. By sharing her story and those of others in the community who have struggled with access to public transportation, Williams says she’s seen an important change in the way that the city addresses and prioritizes public transit.

According to data from the Brookings Institution, Memphis has over 40,000 households without access to a car, 70 percent of which are low-income households. Though 80 percent of the metro area is technically “covered” by public transit, the average carless household can reach only 26 percent of jobs in the area via a public transit commute under 90 minutes.

“The Mayor has an initiative to lower poverty in the city, but that can’t happen when people can’t get to work because the bus doesn’t travel in their area,” Williams said, citing the example of President’s Island, an area home to 200 jobs that nearly had its bus route cut last year.

Williams said that when she explained in real-life examples how important public transportation is for connecting low-income communities in Memphis to jobs and opportunity, the board had an “aha” moment. Since then, the board has created subcommittees to work specifically on the public transportation issues the community has brought to the board, and issues of those who are transit-dependent in Memphis have risen “to the top of the heap.”

“On a broad level, we need a cultural shift — there’s this sense that public transit is just for low-income working-class people, and we don’t value those citizens enough to repair or improve the transit system,” Williams said.

“That has to change — public transit should be for everyone, and we should build a public transit system we can be proud of,” she added.

As the board works to make this vision a reality, Williams says she is “humbled to be a voice for those who have not had a voice…to be effective for those who have been overlooked in the past.”

Shelia Williams

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Leaders Find Common Ground at Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

It isn’t every day that you see Koch Industries sponsoring an event with the ACLU, and Van Jones co-hosting with Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan. On March 26, the #Cut50 Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform convened with more than 90 speakers to address criminal justice reform in an atmosphere of national partisanship and political gridlock. Panelists discussed over-criminalization, mandatory minimum sentencing, juvenile justice, felony disenfranchisement, recidivism reduction, and community re-entry.

Here are a few startling facts from the summit:

  • 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record
  • 2 out of 3 people who served time will return to prison within 3 years – for juveniles, the rate is 1 in 2 within 3 years
  • African Americans are jailed four times more than Whites
  • 1 in 13 African Americans is a disenfranchised voter because of a current or prior felony, and in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, 1 in 5 African-American men is unable to vote

Gov. Nathan Deal, R. Ga, spoke of his state’s accomplishments in the past three years, including reforms concerning adult non-violent offenders, juvenile justice, and re-entry programs. He argued that the bottom line in criminal justice reform was to make a decision between “locking up those you’re afraid of and those you’re simply mad at.”

So what can we expect to see proposed in this Congress? The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 aims to modernize federal drug sentencing polices by granting more discretion to federal judges in non-violent drug offense cases, along with amending the Controlled Substances Act to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain substances. Also, many legislators at the bipartisan summit expressed intentions to focus on a two-pronged approach to reduce mass incarceration and recidivism: address juvenile justice reform and alternatives to incarcerating non-violent drug offenders and those with mental illnesses, and allocate more resources toward re-entry programs

What does all of this mean? In an interview, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said “The American criminal justice system is bloated, ineffective, and badly in need of reform.” When addressing bipartisan action, Henderson asserted, “This is a special moment to address the crisis.”

Watch the entire summit here:

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New Report Reveals Devastatingly Large Education Funding Gaps

Despite recent, widespread attention to inequitable education funding formulas, school districts serving low-income students and students of color still receive far less funding than districts serving White and more affluent students. This is just one of the findings of “Funding Gaps 2015,” a new report by The Education Trust that analyzes education funding equity across the United States and within each state.

In order to understand how states allocate the resources they oversee, “Funding Gaps 2015” explicitly removes federal funds from its analysis and focuses only on state and local funding. The results are discouraging, and highlight how low-income students and students of color are disadvantaged by funding policy.


The report finds that there is great variation among states in terms of their funding patterns. For example, Minnesota and Ohio both provide 22 percent more in state and local funds to their highest poverty districts, while Illinois provides 19 percent less. Similarly, Massachusetts provides 18 percent more funding to districts serving the most students of color, while Texas provides 15 percent less.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Nationally, the highest poverty school districts receive about $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in state and local finds than the districts with the lowest poverty levels.
  • Districts serving the most students of color receive about $2,000, or 15 percent, less per student in state and local funds than districts serving the fewest students of color

Sadly, the inequities described in “Funding Gaps 2015” have existed for decades. The quality of teachers, resources, and educational opportunities that a child has is far too often partly determined by their family’s income, or the color of their skin.

“If this nation is truly to live up to its promise of being the ‘land of equal opportunity,’ states must take a hard look at their funding formulas and ask themselves, ‘Are we giving all students the resources they need to reach their full potential?’ The answer is ‘no’ in far too many states,” said Natasha Ushomirsky, K-12 senior data and policy analyst and co-author of the report. “The good news is that closing funding gaps is possible. There are many states that are paving the way.”

To get detailed data on funding patterns in your state, check out The Education Trust’s new online data map.

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Tennesseans Lead the Campaign for Education Equity at the Local Level

By Tara Yarlagadda, Field Associate

A strong campaign for education equity has been steadily building in Jackson, Nashville, and all across the state of Tennessee over the past few months. An ever-growing group of committed Tennesseans has been leading the charge to advocate on behalf of the Common Core State Standards – known in Tennessee as the Tennessee Academic Standards – and defend against any attempts to alter the standards. The Leadership Conference Education Fund has been steadfastly working to support the work of local affiliates in the state, such as the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, headed by President Gloria Sweet-Love, and the Urban League of Middle Tennessee, led by President and CEO Patricia Stokes.

In March of this year, 100 individuals joined the Tennessee State Conference NAACP in the state capital of Nashville to announce the state chapter’s legislative priorities of the year. One of the key priorities was the need to preserve and advocate against any attacks on the Tennessee Academic Standards. The Education Fund was fortunate to be part of the dialogue that took place that day and provided guidance to advocates on messaging for the Tennessee Academic Standards.


The Tennessee Academic Standards were created through a bipartisan, state-led initiative made up of governors and state superintendents dedicated to supporting standards-based education reform efforts across the states. These are clear, consistent standards that spell out what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level in English and math, thereby ensuring that all students meet the same expectations. Parents across Tennessee also echo the need for consistent, statewide standards that allow for higher expectations for students.

One of the key goals of these joint efforts between The Education Fund, the Tennessee State Conference NAACP, and others is to advocate for equity in the implementation of the Tennessee Academic Standards, in particular by creating a space to elevate the voices of low-income and communities of color. This includes training advocates to effectively communicate with media and key stakeholders across the state and providing research on the lay of the land in Tennessee. State leaders such as President Sweet-Love have been instrumental in bringing together far-flung advocates from across Tennessee to work together to ensure that each and every child receives an education that matches the rigors of our globalized world.

In a global economy, students from Tennessee must be adequately prepared so that they can compete with children from Hong Kong, Massachusetts, and all around the world. Parents and community leaders in Tennessee recognize that high, consistent, and achievable standards are needed in order to accomplish that goal.

However, the work does not end merely by developing and implementing the standards. A bridge must be built to the standards connecting what students currently know with what they should know in order to meet the higher standards, in part by ensuring that all students have the resources – great teaching, high-quality afterschool programs, tutoring, technology, etc. – so they can be ready for college, career, and the world.  Little by little, Tennesseans are working to do just that.

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DOT Approves Nationwide Pilots for Local and Targeted Hiring Policies

By Anita Hairston, PolicyLink

Last week, the US Department of Transportation initiated a first-of-its-kind experimental program that will allow city and state departments of transportation to set economic and geographic preferences when hiring for local contracts to build roads, bridges, and transit facilities.

This is a groundbreaking move for transportation equity. For too long, the U.S. Department of Transportation held onto a prohibition on local hiring that failed to serve communities most in need of good transportation jobs. Research has shown that low-income workers and communities of color are vastly under-represented in jobs in the transportation sector. This is a missed opportunity for connecting these communities to quality jobs, especially given the good wages and benefits that often accompany transportation work.

This new local hire program, which will promote employment of local, low-income workers on transportation projects, will be established for a one-year trial period. It sets forth a glide path to full workforce inclusion. Federal transportation officials have also signaled a desire to make this trial program permanent — a move that would have a huge impact on building sustainable change within our nation’s transportation system.

PolicyLink has been working for many years to win targeted hiring provisions in infrastructure. Local hire has a congressional advocate in Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) who championed local hire legislation. Because of its potential for positive community impact, local and targeted hiring provisions are a key part of the policy goals that the Transportation Equity Caucus has outlined for the federal surface transportation legislation, which is currently being debated in Congress.

Now is the time for equity advocates to encourage their regional transportation decision-makers to take advantage of the new local hire program. This is an urgent moment to let USDOT know that local and targeted hire is a priority for our communities. Join PolicyLink, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Equity Caucus, and other organizations to send comment letters to USDOT about this program before April 6, 2015. For more information, please email Anita Hairston at anita@policylink.org.

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D.C. City Council Pushes Forward Local CEDAW Initiative

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

While we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, we are reminded that the United States is one of only seven countries that still hasn’t ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This international treaty affirms fundamental principles of human rights and equality for women around the world, yet – nearly 35 years after it was signed by President Carter – the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify it.

Absent action in the Senate, elected officials in cities like Washington, D.C., have taken it upon themselves to introduce local CEDAW ordinances. D.C. Councilmember David Grosso co-introduced a CEDAW ordinance on March 3 with unanimous council support. Councilmember Grosso highlighted the need to protect women and girls from physical harm, unfair treatment, and structural violence.

As an amendment to the 1999 Office of Human Rights Establishment Act, the District’s CEDAW initiative requires gender analyses within all District government agencies, as well as an annual report by the Office of Human Rights (OHR) with recommendations to advance gender equity. The bill also requires the OHR to make training in human rights with a gender perspective available for all agencies. The next step is a hearing in the Council Judiciary Committee and then once adopted, it will go to the Mayor for her signature. The bill will take effect after a 30-day congressional review period.

With International Women’s Day just around the corner on March 8, this resolution is a great start and a strong step forward in advancing gender equity and equality for women in D.C., whose local push for women’s rights also aligns with the 2015 Cities for CEDAW campaign. By the end of the year, the campaign aims to sign on 100 mayors from across the country to implement local versions of CEDAW. Louisville, Ky., and San Francisco, Calif., are carrying out local CEDAW initiatives, while New York City has indicated its intentions to pass a CEDAW ordinance.

D.C. for CEDAW has gained support from local and national women’s and human rights organizations. June Zeitlin, director of human rights policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was very pleased that 50 national organizations participating in The Leadership Conference’s CEDAW Task Force supported the DC for CEDAW initiative. D.C’s initiative is just the start of a year-long campaign advancing women’s economic, political, cultural, and social equality at the local level.

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