Republicans Shift Education Responsibility to Local Level — Where It's Easier to Cut

Last Friday, the House Tea Party Republicans in Congress dealt another blow to our future economy by passing a federal education bill that would reduce accountability, misappropriate Title 1 grants, and cut funding to public schools by over $1 billion. The legislation, which President Obama has threatened to veto, has also found opposition among the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, teachers unions, civil rights groups and advocates for the disabled.

The House passed the bill narrowly (221 to 207), with all Democrats and a dozen Republicans voting against the plan that weakens public schools in the guise of local control.

Republicans who want to cut education funding often pretend it will be picked up by local jurisdictions, but their own party platform in Texas, passed in 2012, not only calls for the elimination of the federal Department of Education but also states, "we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions." So while at the federal level they claim to be cutting taxes and returning local control to education, the truth is they have no intentions at any level to provide adequate funding for students who attend public schools.

In the Senate, Democrats have passed their own bill and it is unlikely we will see a compromise that'll reach the President's desk during this Congressional session.

When Republicans boast about cutting taxes and essential services, it's important to note that the burden is not lifted but often shifted to local authorities. Look no further than another Texas Republican Party platform item regarding early childhood development: "We urge Congress to repeal government sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development." Numerous studies have shown the benefits of such programs, and in 2012 voters in San Antonio approved a local tax increase to provide just such services to their growing young population. That measure spearheaded by Mayor Castro was supported by many leaders of the city's large employers including Toyota and H-E-B. Chris Neilson, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, said, "I've concluded that there is no more important investment, both for our community today and our workforce for the future." According to the San Antonio Express-News, "Registering opposition, but vastly outnumbered, were taxpayer watchdogs, tea party members, educators, parents and others." Without shaking a finger at those who have abdicated their duties at a higher level, Mayor Castro articulated the need for local funding by stating:

For the purpose of education in a state that ranks about 45th or 47th in terms of per-pupil spending, San Antonioans could see that in order to have economic prosperity in the future, in this 21st century global economy where brain power is the new currency of success, it made a lot of sense to invest this small amount for a big reward in the future.

San Antonio's effort to combat the disturbing trend of leaching of our public school funding was in 2012, but now it's 2013 and that trend continues. The DCCC released this statement about Friday's vote in the House:

Education is the key to getting a good job in our modern economy, but instead of passing any legislation that would actually create jobs or give students a chance, Congressman Weber is wasting time on this partisan bill that actually cuts funding for schools.

Unfortunately, even though Congressman Weber's vote wasn't reflective of how Texans or Americans feel about public education, it was representative of his colleagues in the Republican delegation of Texas. The good news is we can still thank the dozen Democrats (plus Louie Gohmert?) who spoke up for those, who for better or worse, trust their government to uphold their duty to provide quality education for all Americans.

According to a report by Washington Post the House version of the bill would:

  • Eliminate the current accountability system, called adequate yearly progress, which requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by next year.
  • Delete a provision known as "maintenance of effort," which ensures that states use federal money in addition to, and not as a replacement for, state and local money to help low-income, minority and disabled students and English learners.
  • Allow federal money sent to high-poverty schools, known as Title 1, to follow the students if they enroll in a different public school, even if that school is well funded and does not have many poor students.
  • Not require schools to evaluate teachers.
  • Let districts and states set their academic expectations for schools and then decide what, if anything, to do about schools that do not perform.
  • Sets education funding at sequestration levels, cutting more than $1 billion from public education next year.
  • Keep the requirement that schools test students in math and reading annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and make those results publicly available by subgroup.
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