Like many Minnesotans, following politics is now my No. 1 pastime. Women in my neighborhood have even formed a sort of club around what’s happening in state and national legislation.
This week we discovered HR610, a bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would eliminate Lyndon Johnson’s landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replace it with the School Choice Act. HR610 was introduced by Rep. Steve King of Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District on Jan. 23 and was referred to the House Committee on Education and Workforce.
Reasonable Americans who believe in free and equitable public education can’t let that bill get out of committee for a House vote.
The ESEA established what are known as title programs, and because these are so important to maintaining free and equitable public education, Congress has reauthorized ESEA every five years since 1965. Under President George W. Bush, ESEA became known as No Child Left Behind; under President Barack Obama, it was rebranded the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and passed Congress with rare bipartisan support.
Information pages about ESSA have been removed from the U.S. Department of Education website, so I’ll tell you what title dollars pay for.
Title I, part A supports schools and districts serving a high poverty population. These dollars pay for support to help children meet challenging academic standards, in reading and math intervention classes or after-school homework help, for example.
Title II provides grants to states to support the training, recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers and principals.
Title III focuses on helping schools ensure that English learners and immigrant students attain English proficiency and meet the same challenging state standards as all students.
Title IV funds block grants for enrichment learning like STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — programs and technology integration.
Title V supports school reform efforts.
Titles VI and VII pay for programs supporting Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education.
Title VIII provides funding for educating homeless children.
HR610 would repeal all of these regulations and programs by eliminating the ESEA to create block grants used to “distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child.”
A block grant system in and of itself isn’t the problem. The ESEA includes many block-grant initiatives. The problem is that HR610 includes no provisions that dollars be used to serve low-income, homeless, immigrant or native learners. In fact, there is no plan in place known to the public outlining how block-grant money would protect the rights of our most vulnerable students.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is concerned that current legislation doesn’t allow innovation and choice. Ironically, title money is what schools use to innovate, create and maintain programs to address achievement gaps. It pays for instructional coaches, intervention teachers, ready-for-kindergarten summer camps, staff development, hiring counselors and nurses, and so much more.
I understand the frustrations of some parents who want more freedom to choose. My sister-in-law in Wisconsin home-schools my niece and nephew. A neighboring school district offers a full-day Friday program of electives geared to home-schooled kids, but she can’t enroll Clara and Henry because the school district in which she lives won’t release them from enrollment. I also have friends who send their kids to Catholic schools and charter schools in my community. While I understand that school choice may be a good fit for some families, we can’t pay for their choices by funneling public funds away from public schools.
We have to make the best choice for all kids, not just our own.
I actually want to be wrong about the potentially devastating impact of this proposed legislation, so if I have misunderstood the consequences of HR610, please write your perspective.
In the meantime, readers, call your congressional representatives and tell them not to support HR610.
Also in the meantime, create an account at Congress.gov to start tracking legislation around issues that you care about and visit the Minnesota House and Senate websites. There’s a lot going on, and legislation is moving fast.
Maybe find some like-minded ladies, bake some bars, brew some coffee, or mix some margaritas. In 2017, political action needs to be the new game night.
Jennifer Behnke, of Richfield, is a teacher and curriculum coordinator. A small part of her coordinator salary is paid through Title II funds.