The SCOTUS Higher Ed Decisions and the Potential Impact on K-12 Schools

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wolfe

Two landmark higher ed decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) have been making headlines this summer. As you likely know, the SCOTUS ended June by deciding that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission. Then it wrapped up the month by striking down President Biden’s plan to forgive some or all federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans. While both are decisions impacting higher ed, there are possible repercussions for K-12 as well.

SCOTUS’ affirmative action decision is forcing higher ed institutions to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies. Some K-12 educators are worried that this decision could affect school policies, such as magnet schools that use race as admissions criteria, scholarship programs that are based on race, and other initiatives to promote diversity and equity in schools. In addition, this decision could impact diversity in the teacher workforce as teacher education programs can no longer use race or ethnicity as part of the admissions process.

Teachers from around the country shared their varied responses to this decision on WeAreTeachers. One said, “If the context from birth to college level was the same for all students of any race, then I would support removing affirmative processes. However, the reality is that all things are not equal. I hope for the world where they are, but I don’t think we are there yet. Poverty, dysfunctional family structures, funding at school level, etc. play a significant role. It is not the fault of a five-year-old that they have that disadvantage right from day one of school.”

Another said, “While many times race and socio-economic levels are aligned, it is not fair to use race as a factor. In addition, I think colleges (and many other organizations) forget that to truly provide the opportunities that those of lower socio-economic levels deserve, we must provide the extra supports they did not have access to prior to the opportunity to attend college, and I feel like that is the biggest hole in affirmative action. I hope that makes sense and, of course, this is just one (privileged) person’s opinion.”

SCOTUS ended June by striking down President Biden’s plan to discharge some or all federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans. The high court ruled that the Administration did not have authority under a 2003 federal law to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars of student debt.

Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) had filed briefs supporting Biden’s student loan debt relief program and pointing out the positive impact it would have had on its members. The NEA1 said, “Nearly half of educators have outstanding student loan debt, owing, on average, $58,700. The financial challenges faced by these educators compared to their peers accelerated during the pandemic, but debt relief now would place many educators on more solid financial footing.”

In its brief, the AFT2 pointed out that striking down the plan could have negative impact on the teacher workforce—already coping with a shortage in some parts of the country—causing teachers to seek out more higher-income careers to pay down their student debt.

Immediately following the release of the SCOTUS decision, President Biden announced a “new path” to student loan debt relief based on the Higher Education Act. Under the new plan—already subject to criticism from some lawmakers—800,000 borrowers will have their student debt forgiven, totaling $39 billion, due to fixes that more accurately count qualified monthly payments under existing income-driven repayment plans.

Both SCOTUS decisions on higher ed are new and complex and their actual effect on K-12 education is, of course, yet to be seen. As always, you can rely on MDR to provide you with the information you need to develop back-to-school and 2023-2024 school year marketing plans that will support the K-12 education community as it strives to manage and mitigate their impact.

Lisa Wolfe is the president of L. Wolfe Communications. Founded in April 2000, L. Wolfe Communications offers its clients a network of senior, experienced public relations executives with a variety of complementary experience and expertise in public relations and communications for the education and library markets.

1 Brief of The National Education Association as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners

2 Brief of Amici Curiae American Federation of Teachers; American Association of University Professors; and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Support of Petitioners