Sunday, February 26, 2017

Don't copy and paste; weigh in on your priorities

Among the latest things making the rounds on Facebook is a call to action that looks something like this:
Betsy Devos has begun her catastrophic destruction of public schools. 
Please call your US House Representative now and ask them to vote NO on House Bill 610 the Choices in Education Act. This bill will effectively start the defunding process of public schools, in hand with eliminating student rights and programs that address poverty, etc. It also takes away nutritional standards for school lunches...
Please copy and paste! Don't hit share -- not everyone will be able to see it if you do.

Okay, first of all: if you set your posts to "public" on Facebook, YES, everyone will be able to see whatever post you share.

Second, HB610 follows a LONG tradition of such proposals being made: President Reagan proposed eliminating the department in 1982, and it went nowhere. Senator Dole promised to do so during the 1996 presidential campaign. There were proposals (most recently) in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In fact, it's happened so often, there's even a GAO report on it.

So let's not blame Betsy DeVos and let's not panic.
As NPR puts it, this bill is posturing. Why?
...The Education Department is unlikely to be eliminated, particularly by a bill that declines to specify who or what would take over its $68 billion annual budget and the functions of data collection, oversight, civil rights enforcement and student aid, among others. 
"Whatever you think about the Department of Education, the idea you could eliminate it with a one-sentence bill is just posturing," Schoenbrod says. "Posturing is not something that's just done by Democrats or by Republicans. It's done by both."
Also, while Republicans control both houses of Congress, not all Republicans support this, and it would burn political capital on something that isn't a high priority for many; from EdWeek
But even in the current Republican-dominated political landscape, abolishing the department would cost Trump and his allies political capital that they might rather spend elsewhere. 
"That's a heavy lift, and there's some Republicans that may not be comfortable with that," said Vic Klatt, a former aide to House Republicans on the education committee who is now a principal at Penn Hill Group, a government relations organization in Washington. He thinks such a proposal could get tripped up in the Senate, which requires a 60-vote threshold to get past procedural hurdles.
 So, assuming that Congress isn't going to fast-track a bill to eliminate the Department of Education, what should we be watching at the federal level of education?

Civil rights.The most significant charge of the Department of Education is around civil rights in education. Most of the programs they administer--and the federal laws that gives money to states for certain programs--is given for a particular group that traditionally has had their access to education in some way (or ways) curtailed. Title I is the biggest program; it is devoted to kids who are poor. The department doesn't simply function as a pass-through for funds, though; all of those funds come with strings to particular actions, most of which have to do with ensuring kids have access to a quality education without segregation, discrimination, or obstacle.
We saw the first hole in this earlier this week, when the Trump administration rolled back (in essence) their notification to states that how they treat transgender students would be part of how the federal government oversaw Title IX. Most of us know Title IX because it's what forced schools to ensure access to girls in sports; it also ensures sexual assault on campuses is dealt with appropriately. The federal government rolling back their overseeing this means the federal government is no longer ensuring that the civil rights of transgender students are protected.
And that's a problem. States and local districts have (do I have to link to something here?) a pretty atrocious record when it comes to ensuring the civil rights of the vulnerable are protected.

Beyond trans* students, who should we be concerned for?

  • poor kids: Title I is the biggest program. This being sent to the state for block grants (aka: do what you like with this!) would remove one of the few things that nationally ATTEMPTS to address inequities in education around poverty (and, often, color). Note that school lunch programs ARE being undermined, but that's administered by US Ag; you should weigh in on that, too, but it's not out of this department. 
  • kids of color: this is one that overlaps with the Department of Justice. We finally started to see some acknowledgement of the huge disparity in discipline in and around schools along the color line in the Obama administration. Given the history of Attorney General Sessions, I am very concerned that we'll see the exact opposite under this one
  • kids with special ed needs: IDEA, while it has never fully been funded, is A) up for renewal (eventually. we hope.) and B) still a lot of money, Kids with special needs are, let's be blunt, expensive. It has been enormously important for the federal government to backstop their access to education with the federal funds and oversight.That, however, is done by the Office of Civil Rights, and DeVos has appeared willing to cut that
  • English language learners: Title III. Again, expensive and in some places, pretty unpopular (cue the "my grandfather just was sent into a classroom and..." stories), particularly with the current backlash around immigration. We know what works for kids learning languages; we need the fed to make sure it's happening. There are places where it won't otherwise.
  • Native American kids: Title VII is for Native American students, and the history here is sadly pretty awful. Because of their unique relationship with government, the federal government oversees much of this directly. There have been attempts in the previous administration to improve it. I don't see this as a priority for this administration.
  • Girls, LGBTQ students, and anyone else covered by Title IX...which is everybody!: this gets not only into equal access issues (as we've seen above); this also gets into safety issues. Students cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sex, and that means their safety is part of the guarantee. With no national assurance of equity, anyone covered by Title IX will have to look at states to oversee access. 
...are we missing anyone yet?

Here's my recommendation: if you want to advocate to your delegation about this issue, start by saying "I oppose the closure of the Department of Education" and then tell them why! It is much more likely--it is already happening!--that we'll see rollbacks on these guarantees than we'll see the entire department disappear. Tell Congress you want US DoE to do its job. 

And by all means share this! 

No comments: