The House Education and the Workforce Committee voted today – strictly along party lines – to allow local school districts to spend federal allocations targeted to help low-income, Native American, English-deficit, migrant and neglected and delinquent students for anything they want, rather than strictly for the targeted children.
The bill would strip funding restriction from virtually every title of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, from Title I to Title VII. Federal funding provides about 6 percent of all elementary and secondary education money spent annually.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) likened the action to delivering suitcases of cash to local district, letting them spend it however it wishes and not asking for any accountability. Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) called the actions “unbelievable” and essentially the destruction of 50 years of legislative history to help underserved students.
“I can’t believe the way we are going backwards in this nation,” Payne said, suggesting that “Little Black Sambo” would probably be reintroduced in classrooms soon.
The bill, H.R. 2445, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, passed with all 23 Republican members supporting it and all 17 Democratic members opposing it. The votes were the same on each of six amendments that would have preserved various special programs.
Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights that represents more than 200 such organizations, said in a statement before the vote that the group was “especially alarmed that Congress would consider repudiating its commitment to educational equity at a time when tight budgets and cutbacks in public services are shredding the social safety net for families across the nation.”
While Republican members repeatedly defended their actions by saying it could mean that even more money would flow to underserved students, Democrats reminded their colleagues that the various special programs were passed specifically because local boards either could not or would not direct more money to underserved students.
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) argued that the historical reasons for allocating the special funding streams no longer apply to current day America and said such programs were one of the reasons that the country is falling behind other countries academically. He said that voting to preserve special appropriations for Native American students attending schools off the reservations would be “voting against the students you are intending to help.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) argued that federal education spending priorities had been “distorted” since the 1960s. She said the greatest help to poor children was “freedom,” noting that she had grown up in a poor county and she and her classmates had succeeded because they wanted to.
“We took advantage because of the freedom,” Foxx said, not because taxpayers’ money taken from one group and given to another.
“Why do you think these programs were passed in the first place?” Holt replied to Foxx’s assertions. “We have serious inequalities in this society.”
Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) assailed Foxx’s assertions about needing only freedom, saying she was suggesting that underserved students have the “freedom to have the least-experienced teachers…the oldest books … the least concern about the achievement gap.”
Tierney also argued that the “flexibility” various school officials had sought during earlier proceedings had nothing to do with eliminating restrictions on special funding streams. He said they sought flexibility in reporting requirements, annual yearly progress, standards and assessment reports required under No Child Left Behind.
Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said that money under the various special titles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would still flow to the states and local districts based on the number of students in specific categories, such as low-income, Native American and neglected and delinquent children.
Holt noted it was ironic that none of the money would have to be spent on the very children who drive the formulas.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democratic member of the committee, criticized other members of the committee who suggested that the need to allocate money to certain special student populations was “old-fashioned.”
He said the current laws provide some protection for students whose families lack the political power to gain additional money.
“This federal law is here for a reason,” Miller said, because “when the need existed, the local people didn’t pick up the burden.”