Education: two important proposals

Education is not listed among the enumerated powers of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. Yet the national governments of the United States have maintained an interest in education going back to the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, which in the Land Ordinance of 1785 established that the 16th of the 36 square miles of the territory in the Northwest being surveyed under the authority of the Congress was reserved for the maintenance of free public schools.

The major current Federal involvement in K-12 education, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was part of LBJ’s great society and was intended to provide “Financial Assistance To Local Educational Agencies For The Education Of Children Of Low-Income Families.” This was a recognition that some districts lacked the tax base to provide an equitable education, and in other districts children of poverty were provided with lesser resources than those from more well-off circumstances. This especially affected minorities, especially blacks in inner cities and in some rural parts of the South, thus undercutting the promise made in Brown v Board.

This morning, two pieces of legislation intended to address some of the inequities of current federal educational funding will be introduced by Rep. Chaka Fattah, D- PA02. These are the Fiscal Fairness Act and the Student Bill of Rights Act, tomorrow both of which are designed to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

Rep. Fattah is not currently on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is the authorizing committee for legislation affecting schools. He left that committee when he joined Appropriations, which as an “exclusive” committee (as is, for example, Ways and Means), requires that the Members serve on no other committees absent a waiver. Yet education has remained his primary interest throughout his Congressional service, now in its 9th term.

Recently one of our own, spedwybabs, was meeting with one of his staffers and when she heard about the Representative’s initiatives, suggested connecting the office with me because of my interest in matters educational. As one of his staff noted during our exchanges,

Our country was predicated on the fundamental idea of equality, yet in every state in the country there continue to be poor children receiving less of everything we know they need to experience a quality education. Our ongoing attempts at closing the proverbial achievement gap through various policies and practices, while necessary and generally well intentioned, have not adequately addressed vast gaps in opportunity and funding. Left unaddressed, these gaps will continue the disparate academic outcomes we witness along racial, economic, language, and ability lines.

I cannot in one posting thoroughly explore all of the legislative language. The office was kind enough to send me the text being introduced, along with some background and explanatory material, from which I am heavily borrowing. Today I want to give some background on both initiatives and offer a few comments of my own. I hope in the near future to go into greater depth on the issues these legislative initiatives are intended to address.

The Student Bill of Rights (SBOR) is something the Congressman has been pursuing for several Congresses. The current iteration is based on the Opportunity to Learn framework of the Schott Foundation, and is supported by among other the National Education Association. As a key adviser to the Congressman wrote me, it

addresses the centuries-old injustice of dramatic inadequacy and inequity of resources between school districts. While we have made significant strides in recent years in measuring the difference in educational outcomes between schools and districts, there has not been nearly as much attention paid towards the resources that encourage, allow, or promote student learning. We do not fully know to what extent all children have a meaningful opportunity to learn.

SBOR defines opportunity to learn indicators as:

• Highly effective teachers

• Early childhood education

• College preparatory curricula; and

• Equitable instructional resources

The bill requires that States provide ideal or adequate (as defined by the State) access to each of these resources. The bill also requires States to comply with substantive Federal or State court orders regarding the adequacy or equity of the State’s public school system.

Similar to improvement plans required under existing law, SBOR requires States to provide a remediation plan to address any disparity or inadequacy in the opportunity to learn indicators available to the lowest and highest performing school districts.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page