Public Education Under Attack

Update: H.J. Res 57

Summary:

H.J. Res 57 rolls back an Obama-era department of Education rule that applies state accountability standards uniformly to all schools in a state, including for-profit charter schools.

What’s happening now?

  • The resolution to repeal the accountability implementation rule, H.J. Res 57, was introduced Feb 1, 2017
  • The resolution passed the house on Feb. 7, 2017
  • The resolution was voted on in the Senate on Mar. 9, 2017

Unfortunately, this bill passed 50 to 49, but interestingly, Rob Portman was the only Republican to vote with Democrats against this resolution. It may not make up for helping to confirm DeVos, but it’s worth telling Rob that you appreciate his support for education accountability for ALL schools.

What about Rob and Bob?

Bob Latta (R, OH-5) voted YES to repeal the accountability rule.

Tell him what you think of his YES vote on H.J. Res 57

Rob Portman (R, OH) voted NO on H.J. Res 57.

Tell him your opinion about this vote.

Remember: a YES vote will repeal the accountability rule; a NO vote will keep the accountability rule in place.

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Read the whole story below.

HR 610 — Scary, but maybe a distraction

Steve King from Iowa recently introduced HR 610, the “Choices in Education Act,” an edited version of HR 6119 that was introduced in the last Congress. This bill has gotten the attention of progressive activists and teachers unions, and rightly so: in its first substantive section (102), the bill repeals outright the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965” (ESEA). This key piece of legislation “brought education into the forefront of the national assault on poverty” during Lyndon Johnson’s administration, and it “represented a landmark commitment to equal access to quality education” (Social Welfare History Project).

This is a complex and comprehensive piece of legislation, but there are two important main concepts that are established.

  1. This law recognizes for the first time that high concentrations of low-income households in school districts (thanks to, for example, segregation) leads to underfunded schools that are unable to help the students who need it the most achieve and break out of a cycle of poverty. To address this issue, more funding is allocated to school districts in this situation.
  2. The law requires states to develop accountability plans that apply uniform standards to all public schools so that student achievement can be measured and struggling school districts identified and helped.

This basic foundation has been re-authorized and updated twice, first with President Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Many people are familiar with this legislation that, while perhaps well-intentioned, has emphasized proficiency tests as a way to measure student achievement and teacher and school quality while punishing rather than helping schools that are deemed struggling by these measures. This approach is controversial, and after years of using this theory, studies show the results are more negative than positive.

The more recent re-authorization is President Obama’s 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This law is discussed in more detail below. Most important here is that both President Bush’s and President Obama’s initiatives build on the original ESEA — they are new versions of the ESEA. Repealing this law that establishes fundamental principles accepted for decades on both sides of the aisle about the role of the federal government in education is a radical position.

Why would some republicans want to repeal this foundational education law? Because of they way funds are allocated and because the implementation of the 2015 re-authorization (ESSA) has been interpreted to apply accountability standards to all schools in a state, including charter schools. These provisions would contradict HR 610, which allots “block grants to states” (Sec. 103) to allocate as they wish, rather than specifying more funds for the neediest districts.

This system of fund allocation must be removed by the “Choices in Education Act” in order to allow further defunding of public schools by diverting money on a per student basis away from public education for any students who don’t attend public school. This Act is a voucher law that allows parents to send their children to private schools (or choose home schooling) and be provided their child’s allotment of federal education funds to subsidize this choice. This “Choice” program could cause the greatest harm in districts where schools are already in financial distress–states that have experimented with voucher programs have already documented troubling results.

Applying accountability standards to all schools in a state, including for-profit charter schools, threatens to make them less profitable. Like in the healthcare arena, education is a sector where making money should not be the primary goal. Healthcare should be driven by positive patient outcomes, education should be driven by measurable student success. That’s common sense–unless you are part of the industry that stands to profit.

This bill certainly deserves watching, and it is understandable that people are alarmed about it.

However….

In the House of the 114th Congress, which was also Republican controlled, the previous version of this bill never made it out of committee.  The current version, HR 610, was introduced on January 23, 2017, and it has a long way to go. PredictGov gives this bill a 1% chance of being enacted.

Watch what the other hand is doing! H.J.Res 57

While HR 610 is being waved around like a matador’s cape, another piece of legislation is quietly moving through Congress. The resolution chips away at the foundation of the ESSA reauthorization of the ESEA. Indiana republican Todd Rokita sponsored this resolution, another in a series of “Congressional Review Act” actions. This once obscure and seldom-used rule for repealing regulations passed in the last 6 months of an outgoing President’s term has become a favorite in the republican’s bag of tricks, as the New York Times recently reported.

H.J. Res 57 repeals a rule (that went into effect on November 26, 2016) relating to “accountability and State plans” under the ESEA of 1965. This rule is the mechanism for applying accountability standards uniformly to education institutions throughout a state, even for-profit charter schools. [Note: Significantly, the ESSA also redefines accountability so that it includes “at least one indicator of growth” in addition to measures of proficiency. Including growth is important, because it can help educators move away from standardized testing and towards more meaningful measures of student progress to determine if the education students are receiving is effective.]

In response to public comments suggesting that accountability provisions are an example of government overreach, the (Obama) department of Education states that

“We believe that a single statewide system is necessary to meet ESEA requirements, particularly for ensuring that annual meaningful differentiation and identification of schools is fair, consistent, and transparent to the public; and to ensure that all schools are treated equitably and held to the same expectations” (“Single System”).

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Of course, our new Secretary of Education may not agree.

Why? Remember: accountability and profitability in education do not mix (ask students with degrees from Trump University!).