There have been questions asked and concerns shared by parents on an education bill being debated in Washington D.C. called H.R. 610 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610/text). This bill could result in substantial changes to public education on a federal, state and local level. The federal legislation would, in part, repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and every reauthorization since that time. It doesn’t matter which political party has been in control of Washington since 1965, the ESEA was reauthorized around every 5 years and has morphed into different education reforms and has changed names, depending on the Administration in charge during their reauthorization (i.e., No Child Left Behind under Bush II and Every Student Succeeds Act under Obama).
Now, I support repealing government legislation and huge unfunded mandates IF the reasoning behind the repeal is sound and all proverbial bases covered to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are taken into consideration and civil rights of all persons are secured. I believe it’s good policy to roll back laws that we know, through experience, are damaging, ineffective, and/or outdated.
A repeal of this education law, that’s been around in one form or another since 1965, could end Title I funding for schools with high concentration of low-income children, Title VII funding geared towards bilingual education and could create a clean slate on standards to where our local school districts, state department of education and state government would have the primary responsibility to fill these voids and/or ensure all students are protected and provided an equality in education opportunity. With this possibility, I find it fascinating that Congress has a very low approval rating yet a lot of citizens are more distrustful of our own state legislature than Congress. Save a few that I’ve gotten to know, I am one of those that absolutely don’t trust the Alabama legislature which therefore puts me on the fence with H.R. 610.
Has the Alabama legislature proven it can serve the interests of the people? Have there been substantial changes to how our legislature functions in the past 116 years? No! In fact, I’d argue that it’s gotten worse with the level of corruption that exists and the stranglehold the lobbyists, Big Mules and Corporatists have over our elected tax-supported representatives. Also, our legislature likes to talk freedom and liberty yet Alabama remains one of the most centralized state governments in the country (allowing for very little self-determination of our local county and city governments).
In a short 19 months, we will be electing a new Governor and we are already getting a sample of the same old tired career politicians wanting the job who have been living on our money and continuing to perpetuate a two-tiered Alabama where this state only works for the “haves the power” or “haves the money” and doesn’t work for everyone else. What have they actually done over the past 20 years? We have a rare opportunity to reject all of them and their corrupt putrid system by looking outside of career politics to find our next Governor.
As for the education repeals through H.R. 610, it would only work, in my view, if we had a state government that functioned properly and could anticipate where we needed to fill the gaps on a federal repeal to ensure all of our kids are taken care of. Currently, I don’t trust Montgomery. I can’t even get some of these legislators to stop prostituting themselves to the BCA and the Blue Cross Blue Shield lobby long enough to pass a bill ensuring insurance equality for my autistic daughter. I’m not asking for special privileges for her but I am asking that her medically-necessary treatments be covered in the same way BCBS covers drug addiction, erectile dysfunction or gastric by-pass. BCBS, after all, “covers what matters” (insert sarcasm).
What would H.R. 610 do? It would largely remove the Federal government from providing supplemental funding for “poverty”, bilingual education, and mandated uniform federal education standards. The Feds would, instead, provide monetary block grants to the states. The amount the state would receive would be based on total enrollment of children in public schools, private schools AND homeschool. Right now, the funding mechanism does not take into consideration homeschool or privately educated children. Under 610, these children would be counted and they would be eligible to receive an allotment to assist with the costs of homeschooling or private school tuition.
The public schools, in Alabama, would still receive their federal money disbursement under H.R. 610 but with less strings attached on how to spend that federal disbursement. Historically though, our public schools are overwhelmingly funded by our state and local taxes and not federal money. Now, if you don’t trust your local school, your state department of education or your state legislature then this is where it gets scary. As a special education/civil rights attorney that works with our public schools to improve outcomes for our children, I have some serious concerns about some of our local school district administrators or Boards making right decisions yet others I believe would excel. As for the state department of education, I don’t trust most of them to find their way out of a wet paper bag and I already explained my concerns with the state legislature.
What does this mean to you, the citizen parent? Freedom isn’t really free and where much is given much is required. If power is starting to be decentralized and redistributed to the states and people, then we would be required to exercise our renewed freedoms and decision-making authority as citizens by getting far more active in our local school decisions to ensure that all of our children are taken care of. Will the citizenry do that and will those administrators drunk on power in our school districts and state government listen to the people?
The question is whether the citizens or state are ready to effectively manage their freedom in this area of education without having federal bureaucratic overlords and judges doing it for us by use of threat or violence? Will the federal bureaucratic overlords just be replaced with state and local bureaucratic overlords that will take tyranny to a new level by restricting your ability to question them and remove your right to legally challenge them? Will they fill the void on ensuring our low-income students and schools are properly supported?
I believe in our public education system AND I believe in school choice (which should include “choice” within our public education system, as well). We must ensure that we fully support our public education system while continuing to expand options for all families, regardless of socio-economics. Our current funding formula for our public schools in Alabama doesn’t work and the possible end of Title I funding and rules may prove disastrous with our disparate state funding mechanism. Due to the demographics of our state, I can’t see how a voucher system is really feasible outside of our bigger cities.
Some have said that H.R. 610 is a voucher bill to kill public education but I’m not reading where this is a voucher bill to kill public education. Now, this isn’t to say that some politicians in our state don’t have that intent but I’m not reading it in this legislation. Our entire education system was built on the idea of local control, which is why (despite having a federal department of education) we still have local school boards with a tremendous amount of autonomous decision making power. If anything, this bill could enhance local and state decision making. It could also give parents enhanced options to private school or homeschool yet this shouldn’t be a threat to the local public school if they are doing a great job for our kids.
But, here comes some constructive criticism….
I have warned, for years, that parents will begin revolting against their local public schools if certain things don’t change. These are simple issues that continue to be the main source of complaints that I hear. What needs to change? We need to stop the over emphasis on punitive discipline, we need less homework so there can be more family time, we need unstructured breaks for our kids, like multiple recesses, we need to insert ‘teachable moments’ when kids make mistakes instead of the damaging policy of ‘zero tolerance’ and we need to move away from mindless standardized testing and common core and let our teachers “teach” again. For our special needs children, we need to raise the bar on expectations and access to general education inclusion. If those changes are made then there would be no threat to the public education system from private or homeschool vouchers. The public education system would be in control of their own destiny in this regard if H.R. 610 passes.
A general gripe of mine concerns organizations, businesses, government and even religion that fear or hate competition. When these groups get too big and start using their size, influence and money to stifle or manipulate outcomes then the people lose. We have alternating electrical currents because of competition. We have tremendous advances in technology because of competition. We have two of the greatest college football programs in the country because of competition. I don’t like monopolies, including government monopolies.
At the end of the day and regardless of whether you identify as Republican, Democrat, Right, Left or Center, H.R. 610 turns on one critical question: Do you trust your local school officials, your state department of education and your state legislature to competently fill gaps and do the right thing if the federal government isn’t forcing them? My legal career is based entirely on that idea of using federal and state law/regulations to “make” some school administrators and boards do the right thing yet it also involves working collaboratively with most of our school districts to improve outcomes and release additional resources to our educators. I can see it from both sides and have experienced it in a variety of ways.
For me, I don’t trust the current politicians in charge in Montgomery (in the state department of education or in the legislature). I’m split about 50/50 on the school administrators I trust in this state. I trust our teachers on the ground that are the ones fighting for and teaching our kids and I trust the involved parents.
I do not fear freedom nor do I shrink at the thought of managing our own affairs and in a better way than the Feds. We can’t scream freedom and then wince at the task of being free. It does take work and it involves getting rid of the wolves, who want to control our lives. I’m ready and willing to continue to ensure that all of our children are protected and to continue to improve the outcomes for our education system. But, I’m just one and would need more of us to demand that the establishment politicians to step aside, in both political parties, so we can effectively manage a possible federal decentralization of power back to the state and people. We can use the opportunity to chase the moneychangers out of our state houses and let the people realize what we can achieve together. We would prove far more efficient and effective. I’m an optimist in this regard. I do believe that, with your help, we can make our public education system in Alabama the envy of the nation where we change the funding formula to equalize opportunities for our low-income schools and establish rigorous standards for all of our students. If H.R. 610 happens then let’s rise to the occasion and shape our own destiny in Alabama and realize our own self-determination in a responsible way. Sometimes events happen that we are not particularly ready for but it also provides opportunity to change what’s broken. It will require a huge change in how Montgomery operates and who we elect in the future.
We rise together. As one.