The Republican Party Moves To Further Debilitate Public Education
Last Saturday we marveled at how the Republicans were able to hoodwink the American people again, this time passing John Kline's reauthorization of the Bush Family's No Child Left Behind Act, disguised as the innocous-sounding "Student Success Act." Although hated by parents, teachers, students, Democrats, Republicans and independents, it passed the House 218-213.
Every single Democrat voted NO, but only 27 Republicans had the guts to cross the aisle against the threats from Boehner and McCarthy and vote the way their constituents wanted them to. GOP phonies and cowards who have railed against No Child Left Behind to the voters-- like Joe Heck (R-NV), Joe Barletta (R-PA), Joe Pitts (R-PA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Fred Upton (R-MI), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Robert Dold (R-IL), Rod Blum (R-IA), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Dave Jolly (R-FL), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), John Katko (R-NY) and Peter King (R-NY)-- followed Boehner like meek sheep despite the outrage back in their home districts from teachers and parents.
Thursday the Senate took up their version, Lamar Alexander's so-called Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177). It passed with wide bipartisan approval, 81-17. Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz were among the few senators willing to oppose it. It is widely seen as a compromise, but in partisan terms it's more a Republican victory than a Democratic one.
The big losers, as usual, will be American students.
One of the losses Democrats are sorest over is their accountability amendment, which the Obama administration hoped would be included in the final legislation. The National Education Association opposed the legislation, as it stated the accountability measures were too close to No Child Left Behind and would punish schools rather than offer support. Alexander read the NEA’s statement on the Senate floor Wednesday in support of a no vote.For all Congress' fussing around the edges, most concerned voters were only interested in one amendment-- the one that lost, which would have allowed school districts to opt out of the compulsory over-testing. This will create a major roadblock when the two bills come up in a joint House-Senate committee.
Booker, who offered the amendment along with Warren and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), said, “I cannot in good conscience support a bill that falls short of investing in the potential and promise of all of our children, especially New Jersey’s most vulnerable students.”
The amendment that would have required states to intervene in schools where subgroups of students, such as students of color, low-income students and English-language learners, had achievement gaps.
Several civil rights groups, urged a no vote on the legislation after the amendment failed to pass, such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
“In years past, ignoring these students or segregating them was a moral stain on our nation and that remains true. But today, it is also a recipe for economic disaster. We have been hopeful that there was a path forward toward redeeming the ESEA so that it could live up to its legacy as a civil rights law intended to equal the playing field for vulnerable students but that hope did not materialize yesterday when the senate voted down accountability,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a conference call before the legislation’s passage.
The universal pre-K amendment offered by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) also did not pass. It was one of the last few opportunities Democrats had to include one of their top amendments in the legislation. Alexander had previously voiced his concern about how the amendment would be paid for. The amendment required $30 billion to be distributed through block grant funding, which would go to 4-year-olds from low-income families, or families who earn $48,000 for a family of four. States that provide high-quality universal pre-K to 4-year-olds already could extend their programs to 3-year-olds. States receiving that funding would provide subgrants to school districts, licensed child care settings and Head Start programs that must live up to certain quality standards. It would have been paid for through closing a corporate inversions loophole.
“States already spend money through Title I on early education. This proposal is like a familiar ring. It’s like a national school board … It’s a national school board for 4 year olds, it’s common core for Kindergarteners,” Alexander said in opposition to the amendment.
Even though the universal pre-K amendment didn’t make it through, there was some expansion of pre-K included in the legislation.
...Democrats fought to keep the portability amendment as well as school vouchers out of the legislation. Alexander and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) offered amendments to include these provisions in the bill. The portability amendment would have slowed states to allocate Title I funds to districts based on the number of poor students who attend, but the White House criticized the idea saying that 25 percent of school districts with high concentrations of poverty, above 25 percent, would lose as much as $700 million in federal funds while low-poverty districts would gain as much as $470 million.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), offered an amendment that would let the federal government create a grant program for schools that become “community schools,” or schools that provide wraparound services such as health care and extracurricular activities all year. Alexander said the program wouldn’t add anything that wasn’t already provided in the bill-- a common refrain from Alexander throughout the period during which Democrats offered amendments on pre-k and other programs. Still, the amendment passed.