Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of racial equality has come a long way since his famous speech 50 years ago, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to inequalities in the country's education system and in the nation's courts, Sen. Rand Paul said Friday.
"Too many Americans are trapped in a public education system that does not do our children justice," the Kentucky Republican says in an opinion piece for The Washington Times
. "The dream of racial equality has come a long way, but inequalities still exist that can’t be ignored."
Paul said the American education system has too much political and bureaucratic control, parents have too little, and as a result, students' needs are not met.
"Our children have so much potential, but their natural skills and talents are often ignored," Paul said. "Their true potential is not being realized."
School choice, including voucher and charter school programs that allow public education dollars to follow students, are greatly improving their performance and giving more opportunities, Paul said.
"The Wall Street Journal noted in 2010 that 2,000 of our nation’s 20,000 high schools produce roughly 50 percent of all dropouts," said Paul. "Black children have a 50-50 chance of attending one of these schools. Compare these statistics to Washington, D.C., where a Stanford University study showed that 41 percent of students who attend charter schools learned the equivalent of 72 days more in reading and 101 days more in math each year than similar students attending district schools."
Paul said he agrees with a pastor friend in Kentucky who calls school choice "the civil rights issue of our day."
The Kentucky senator — often mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 race — also used the MLK anniversary to denounce mandatory minimum sentencing, a policy that requires judges to give "draconian sentences" to nonviolent first-time offenders.
"Many Americans have had to serve prison sentences longer than murderers and other violent criminals simply because they made a mistake with drugs, usually in their youth," said Paul.
"These laws have disproportionately affected minorities who often don’t have the legal or financial means to fight back."
He said he backs the Obama administration's intention to reverse some of the laws, and he has introduced legislation to give judges discretion in sentencing.
The federal war on drugs, Paul said, unfairly targets the black community.
"The American Civil Liberties Union has reported that blacks nationwide are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though marijuana use is about the same for black and white Americans," Paul said. "Why? Because federal dollars are doled out to precincts according to arrest quotas. Minority communities often become easier targets than the suburbs."
Overall, he said, King had a dream, "and we've unquestionably made great strides toward equality. However, we still have injustices that must be addressed."
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