Biden, Harris reprise school integration dispute during second Democratic debate

Michael Bennet punctuates the exchange: "Our schools are as segregated as they were 50 years ago"

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre. Twenty presidential hopefuls were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre. Twenty presidential hopefuls were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden were once again at loggerheads Wednesday night over busing for school desegregation and the vice president’s track record on the issue.

In the previous debate, Harris criticized Biden’s 1970s opposition as senator to court-ordered busing for school integration — a move that catalyzed Harris’s rise in the polls as well as a national discussion on the school segregation that persists in many American schools.

This time, the issue was raised by the debate moderators, who asked Harris whether Biden’s contention that the two candidates share a position on “busing” was true. Harris said their views differed sharply, and she would have opposed his efforts decades ago to limit the use of busing to desegregate schools.

“Had I been in the United States Senate at that time, I would’ve been completely on the other side of the aisle, and let’s be clear about this: had those segregationists their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate,” she said. “So on that issue, we could not be more apart.”

But the California senator did not detail her views on how schools should be integrated Wednesday, a question that has dogged her since her criticism of Biden. “Senator Harris supports federal measures to increase school diversity, including resources for busing,” her campaign told Chalkbeat earlier this month, but didn’t spell out details.

Harris’ signature education policy proposal is a hefty raise for American teachers; she hasn’t released a proposal on school integration, though she did recently sign on to a federal bill to offer modest incentives for school districts looking to spur integration. Bernie Sanders, who appeared in Tuesday night’s debate, has released the most detailed plan on the issue of school segregation. A number of other candidates have said they support expanded integration efforts.

Biden responded to Harris that as California attorney general she did little to push for school integration in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “I didn’t see a single solitary time she brought a case against them to desegregate them,” he said.

Michael Bennet, the Colorado senator and a former Denver schools superintendent, chimed in to point out that schools remain deeply segregated by race and economic status.

“Our schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago,” said Bennet. “We’ve got a group of K-12 schools that are good because families can spend a million bucks and you’ve got Detroit Public Schools that are as segregated as they were.”

Schools do remain divided by race in many parts of the country, and the share of black students attending school alongside white students has declined in recent years. (Trends differ depending on how segregation is measured.) Research has also found that low-income students and students of color benefit from attending integrated schools.

Camille Respess contributed reporting.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Matt Barnum on Aug. 1, 2019. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.


  1. Denver schools are definitely as segregated as they were 50 years ago,no thanks to Micheal Bennet,et;al.One thing has changed significantly however,the district, owes 5 BILLION$ to Bennets Wall Street donors,thanks entirely to him.
    Anyone who thinks Bennet is in any way a part of our solution should really get their head out of their ass and do some research!

  2. What difference does that make now? I walked to school first year in Ohio, and shared a front row desk with 7th or 8th grade girl, who shared tablet and pencils for me. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, we lived in small town with about 70 families (as told to me) both were one room school houses, with one teacher. From 5th grade, through High School, Siblings and I rode buses from farms in Ohio, to school and back, and in 4 different locations. Graduated 1947 with HS diploma. Took any job offered, and wound up at coal mine, underground as Electrician, learned on the job. And assigned my own section of mine to keep wired, with 3 helpers (all in 30s and 40s. I had better ears, eyesight, and mine safety. Worked there until mine closed after two years.
    ——Talked my way into cashier job (learned on the job) with A&P Company. 2 years. and Korean Draft Notice, same day I had enlisted, and mother handed me my letter at 7 PM that evening, when recruiter took me by to pick up birth certificate. Was given 2 weeks by SS Service Board, took tests and physical, and was sworn into Air Force. Again, in USAF I had high aptitudes, was selected by superios, and received 4 promotions (from Private to Sergeant) in 8 months. Sent to Colorado for course, and when instructor found what I had done for preceding 8 months, had me move my chair next to him, and I taught the class and him. About 25i-30 of us, and I gained Personnel Experience that stood me in good stead for next 26 years , in military Last jobs, was installing TACSATACOM terminal in Hawaii for Presidential Support, as a Master Sergeant. Had full authority and responsibility, to Pentagon, Communications Command, and authority from superiors to talk to anyone I needed. They only wanted progress reports, who I talked to, and when. Not what I said. Completed that in 1975, transferred to Missouri, where I was one of three, to go to Omaha, NE to design SATCOM terminal for Offutt AFB, NE. Retired November 1976, and now had 124 college credit hours in varied disciplines. Had written standards, policies that are still in use. Was Instructor, teaching foreign and USA military of all ranks, and was chief of my work sections. I believe in the Apprentice System used in Military, and businesses years ago. If Student wants to learn, they will in spite of the leftist-progressive brain washing done now in our so-called educations system.

  3. 2nd comment: I worked with races of all colors, beliefs, in my school years, and then in service, and in coal mine, workers from other countries. We all got along, and that was the same in Military. We had Democrats, Republicans, and many who professed no political party. Anyone looking to be offended, will be offended. SO WHAT

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